Endemic Pandemic Challenges
I don’t know if I can fully articulate how difficult it is to be in the restaurant business right now. Dealing with being in the middle of a pandemic, labor shortages, food shortages, and the summer heat presents new challenges every single day. The last week of August, the unrelenting heat and humidity forced us to close for dinner three nights in a row. With a staff of just seven people I must protect everyone’s health. The front of the house may be a nice 80 degrees, but in the kitchen it is 100.
It is hard to disappoint so many people by closing early and changing our hours without a lot of notice. It is so hard to turn off the phone for hours because we can’t handle pick-up orders as well as the line of people in front of us. Every person in the restaurant is giving their all, but it still isn’t enough to keep up with demand.
This is the tightrope every restaurant is walking right now: how to keep staff and customers happy while dealing with all the aforementioned problems. Chatting with a front-of-house manager at another restaurant the other day, he mentioned that a customer said they would never be back if they didn’t stock his favorite rum. That rum is currently unattainable through the supply chain. He said it’s easier to find new customers than a bottle of alcohol right now.
I am fully behind the plastic bag ban in Maine. It has, however, created yet another supply chain problem. Our compostable plastic bags cost a penny apiece; the paper bags that we now need for to-go orders cost 37 cents each. We ask customers if they will be eating outside or taking it to-go, and the number that say “to-go” and then half an hour later are stuffing a paper bag into our trash can is astounding. Suddenly we can’t source our to-go boxes. Like I said, every day we have to just adapt and move forward.
Anyone that grocery shops knows food prices have just been constantly rising. For us it means bags of cheese that used to be $30 are now out of stock, and the replacement is $90. The cost of chicken has doubled and food suppliers refuse to deliver unless you place a $1,000 minimum order. The stress around just sourcing things is immense.
This is not to say there aren’t so many positives. The number of people who thank us for just being there, for making their dinner, for surviving the pandemic thus far, is uncountable. The kids I have watched grow up who are coming in for their favorite meal. The kids headed off to college who needed their last fix of Bruce’s Burritos. The people who’ve made us their birthday dinner request. These people make it all worth it.
We are also very lucky we don’t have the angry customers you see so often at other places. We have always had a wonderful customer base that’s genuinely kind; plumbers, painters, artists, teachers, lawyers, architects and the retired folks have all just been amazing, and serving them has been a joy. Of course, there are a few exceptions, but they are rare and are far outweighed by the so many excellent experiences we have.
In the coming months we have even more challenges ahead of us. We will not be able to take phone orders. We will have to stop taking orders at 6:45 even though it says we are open til 7 on Google. There will be random days when we will have to close and hours that will vary. I just hope our fabulous customers will continue to support us.
With us and every other restaurant, the best way to find out what is going on is to check their social media. I post specials and updates every day to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Google. Things are not back to normal, and as restaurants continue to struggle we need understanding and kindness. We are here because we love to feed people, we love our communities and want everyone to come out on the other side of this pandemic healthy and happy.
— Erin Bruns