Papa John’s warns customers of pandemic-related disruptions

The chain is the latest to acknowledge problems related to the omicron surge, which has left many companies without enough staff to keep operating.
Papa Johns labor shortage
Photograph: Shutterstock

Count Papa Johns as the latest chain to experience labor shortfalls because of the pandemic.

The Louisville, Ky.-based pizza chain on Friday sent a letter from CEO Rob Lynch to its customers, warning them of closed stores, shortened hours or a lack of drivers because of the pandemic.

“Thank you for being patient as we navigate restaurant operations during this unprecedented time,” Lynch wrote, noting that customers “may experience some changes in your local restaurant,” including the reduced hours or lack of drivers. “We always aim to put our customers first and are taking specific actions to ensure a quality experience for you.”

Those actions include efforts to clean each restaurant, increasing its carryout orders so customers get their order quicker, and updating its website and mobile app to provide “clarity on restaurant hours, wait times and ordering options.”

It also said it is “hiring the best team of pizza lovers” along with a link for those interested in taking a job.

The company in a statement said it is seeing “unprecedented levels of demand.”

“Like all sectors of the economy, we are experiencing temporary staffing challenges, which in limited cases may impact our ability to deliver or take orders,” the company said. “Since we hold ourselves to the highest customer service standards, we have reached out proactively to our loyal PapaRewards members, conveying our gratitude for their patience.”

It’s only the latest indication of the disruption the omicron variant is having throughout the industry. Restaurants were struggling with a labor shortage that intensified throughout the summer and into fall. The remarkable spread of the omicron variant, which sickened as many as 1 million people a day at its worst in December, has resulted in an unprecedented number of workers calling out sick.

Papa Johns ad

That has left many restaurants without enough workers to staff their restaurants. Local sandwich shops have posted signs saying they were closed because of a lack of workers. This week, both Chili’s parent Brinker International and the coffee giant Starbucks warned of omicron-related problems.

Starbucks last month issued a similar warning to its customers, promising to delay the expiration of loyalty points, or “stars,” earned by loyalty customers.

There are some indications that the disruptions and the rising threat of omicron have been hurting sales—Black Box said this week that sales growth has been negative for five straight weeks and was the weakest for the industry since mid-March.

That said, fast-casual chains increased sales and quick-service restaurants were the next best performer. And early earnings thus far have revealed strong results. Starbucks reported record sales quarter in the last three months of 2021, driven largely by traffic gains in the U.S. McDonald’s, meanwhile, also reported strong sales.

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