HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — The Connecticut Restaurant Association says more than 600 restaurants closed their doors during the COVID-19 pandemic, and those who were able to reopen are not out of the woods yet.
Restaurants saw the light at the end of the COVID tunnel recently when they were allowed to reopen to full capacity and the infection rate numbers were going down. But they jumped the metaphorical tracks and went into another dark tunnel when they hit the challenge of finding workers and trouble with the supply chain and food prices.
Scott Smith, the vice president and CEO of Max Restaurant Group in Hartford, told News 8, “People are here and they want to party! They’re coming to the restaurants, they want to drink. They are willing to try anything.”
The restaurants started filling back up in the summer and now people are back, and many eateries have wait times. But restaurants are struggling in the kitchen.
Smith said, “We are constantly dealing with supply issues and things like that. You order 70 pounds of salmon for the weekend, and you get 30.”
At Max Downtown, the chefs are getting creative with the menu and offering new dishes based on the food they can buy, but even the price of the food they can buy has jumped way up over the past year.
Scott Dolch of the Connecticut Restaurant Association said, “This last September, [the price of] proteins were up 57%, freight oil up 47%, eggs 44%; everything is more expensive.”
At Max, they are not only getting creative with the dishes, but Smith says his staff is rising to the challenge all the way around.
“It’s not just a supply issue, it’s the shortage in staffing. We are struggling to make sure we fill a team every night to be able to meet the demand coming in,” Smith explained.
Since the pandemic eased, there are 25,000 restaurant job openings. Staffing fell from 160,000 employees in 2020 to 135,000 employees in 2021.
Dolch says most restaurants are working at 60 to 70 percent staffing capacity.
Tap & Vine in Wallingford is so desperate for a chef and line cook, they put out a Facebook post saying they will have to close their doors this weekend if they can’t find the personnel.
“We are seeing that down at Tap and Vine, and I feel for that restauranteur,” Dolch said. “He even said he had someone coming in, and they got COVID. It is such a challenge. Our restauranteurs are going through so much right now.”
Restaurants are just hoping to make it through the winter.