‘Everyone goes via the identical factor’: Eating places face reopening challenges


“It reaches a point where it doesn’t matter how hard you try to fake it when you’re so busy and stressed,” he said. “You can’t pretend nicely when your hair is burning.”

Restaurateurs have waited more than a year to reach that moment when they can finally receive guests at full capacity without restrictions. But now that the opportunity presents itself, they are faced with a wave of new challenges.

They go out of their way to find help, hold on-site recruitment meetings, and solicit employees on social media. They raise wages even though the cost of ingredients and other goods is rising due to disruptions in the global supply chain. There are subtle ironies, too: after having lived on take-away orders for months, they are now being turned away. And after longing to stay with guests, they still rely on technology to accelerate sales.

And what keeps many up at night is the looming danger of having to repay rent and other debts that have arisen during the long months of the pandemic. After all, said Ayr Muir, owner of local fast-casual chain Clover, even with diners returning, restaurateurs still don’t know when – and if – sales will drop to 2019 levels.

Kevin Lawton-Smyth, the general manager of Clover, sends Paul Stark home with some of Clover’s meal after promising him a job at the soon-to-be-opened restaurant.Jessica Rinaldi / Globe Staff

“We may be in the middle of the storm, not at the end. I think most of the closings caused by COVID are still pending, ”said Muir. “People are more scared now than they were a year ago when I spoke to them.”

Attitude is a big issue. Competition for hospitality workers was already a crisis before COVID. But at a moment when funds are already scarce, getting back to pre-pandemic staff is proving to be a costly investment.

Kane’s Donuts raised wages from $ 13 to $ 18 an hour, said owner Paul Delios, in an attempt to stave off “a significant amount of poaching” by competitors. Donut prices have also risen as the cost of making one of Kane’s maple bacon specials has doubled: a £ 15 case of bacon that used to cost $ 60 is now $ 127.

Clover raised his wages by tipping to about $ 21 an hour and held a pop-up job fair Thursday to hire local workers in hopes of filling 150 jobs at three new restaurants in the coming months. Douglass Williams of MIDA, with locations in South End and Newton, said he wants to see, hire, and train high school students, nurses, and anyone ready to learn the industry.

“We try to capture them and integrate them into our culture,” he said.

Will Gilson, chef and owner of Puritan & Company, Cafe Beatrice, and The Lexington, used humor. On Instagram this week he said he was looking for a sous chef, a pastry chef and a “personal spiritual advisor.” He was shocked at how many people were talking about the latter. It’s a joke, he said, but these posts get 25 percent more responses about actual jobs.

At Veggie Galaxy, owner Adam Penn said the restaurant only has half its typical 60-person staff, which means he can’t open all of the tables in the dining room. Without enough waiters, customers place orders by scanning a QR code on their phone.

“We are somehow caught in a limbo in which some [servers] We don’t want to come back until we have full service, but we have to get them back before we do that, ”he said. “As for the kitchen staff … we had a couple of cooks who left because they could do more elsewhere.”

In some cases, restaurants are doing even more business than they did in days before the pandemic, with expanded al fresco dining privileges allowing them to set up tables on streets and sidewalks.

Sam Sosnitsky, for example, was able to double the capacity of Ma Maison, their 35-seater restaurant on Beacon Hill, by adding two terraces on both Cambridge and Anderson streets. She’s still struggling to keep up with demand.

“I turn people down every day,” she said. “They call it the ‘Roaring 20s’ rerun, and I never thought we’d see anything like it, but it was absolutely insane.”

Add to this the cost and availability of ingredients as supply chains struggle to keep up with increasing demand.

On Thursday, Robins devised a plan to find bread for Veggie Galaxy’s seitan top sandwich; The most difficult product to get nowadays are paper napkins. Muir had tied a cargo of olive oil in international waters for weeks. Sosnitsky is just glad that there is a Whole Foods across the street that she regularly runs into to buy “what we miss”.

And sometimes labor and supply shortages come together, for example when Gilson has not been able to get a beer for more than a week because there weren’t enough drivers to hand it in.

All these factors together make it more difficult than ever to run a restaurant, according to the operators, especially at the moment when customers want to come back. To cope with the onslaught, some restaurants have discontinued take-out or reduced their opening hours. But that puts them in conflict with loyal customers who have supported them in the darkest moments.

At the height of the pandemic, Stuart Schnitt and his wife were ordering takeout four or five nights a week to keep their favorite South End restaurants afloat. But when the couple called about a month ago to place their regular orders in half a dozen places, they kept getting declined. There was simply a lack of staff.

“We know that when people eat there, they make more money than they take away. But as people who really tried to support these restaurants during the pandemic, we felt a bit turned away, “said Schnitt. “It’s like saying, ‘You helped us through the worst of times, but we have to do the best for us.’ I get it. I just wonder how temporary that will be. “

Penn said he feared the reopening gulp could hurt Veggie Galaxy’s reputation with some customers. He said any setback, from the early closure to the meal taking longer than usual to reach a table, make him “wonder how long they’ll stay with us”.

His general manager Robins agrees. “We drove ourselves crazy, used the kitchen too much and we don’t have enough staff.” The only salvation, he said, is that “everyone goes through the same thing”.

Janelle Nanos can be reached at janelle.nanos@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @janellenanos. Anissa Gardizy can be reached at anissa.gardizy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ anissagardizy8.