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Restaurants Struggling Under Multitude of Pandemic Pressures

restaurant dining pandemic coronavirus AP
Keith Srakocic/AP
In this Jan. 17, 2021, file photo, a passerby wearing a protective mask is reflected in the window of an empty restaurant.

Owning a restaurant has never been easy, but given the number of pressures on the industry, perhaps it’s never been harder than right now.

A recent roundtable with restaurant owners and the Hawaii Restaurant Association found the industry is struggling under a multitude of pressures. That includes the recent new restrictions issued by Gov. David Ige, though his call for them to drop to 50% capacity was not quite as challenging as one might think.

Because the pandemic rules included a 6-foot distance between tables, many smaller restaurants had not been able to get very far past 50% capacity anyway.

Greg Maples, chairman of the Hawaii Restaurant Association, estimates that industrywide, revenues are about 70% of 2019. That’s considerably better than this time last year, when it was as low as 35% of 2019.

But the cost of everything has increased dramatically and many restaurants are now saddled with catching up on back rent.

At Highway Inn, the restaurant’s price for a pound of beef short ribs has gone from $7 to $9. At M by Jeremy Shigekane, its price for a pound of fish has gone from about $13 to $20.

Then there’s the labor shortage, which has restaurants paying staff more than ever when they are able to find someone willing to work.

“What we need is two more cooks, a dishwasher, and two more servers, so about five [people]. What we can find is zero,” Shigekane said.

Restaurants are now offering signing and referral bonuses in the hundreds for servers, and in the thousands for managers.

For diners, all of these issues are manifesting themselves in longer waits, higher prices, reduced menus and a continued push for takeout. Getting something to go might be your best way to help your favorite eatery.

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