With tourism rebounding and vaccinations rising, revenue in several local restaurants has exceeded pre-pandemic levels.
“In March, we blew our 2019 sales record completely out of the water,” said Megan Senwick, general manager of Croissants Bistro and Bakery. “We’re finally starting to see our local clientele coming back.”
The local comeback tracks with trends nationwide.
According to a recent poll from the Morning Consult, more than half of Americans feel comfortable dining indoors, while two-thirds said they would eat outdoors. And with 73% predicting they’ll eat out in six months, restaurant service should continue to climb.
The restaurant industry was hit hard last year as pandemic-related restrictions went into effect statewide on March 13, 2020.
Landry’s Seafood House, for example, took a while to pick back up after shutting down in mid-March to early May last year.
“The first week-and-a-half or two weeks back it was busy but then it died down again,” said Ronnell, attributing the dip to a lack of tourism during summer 2020.
Croissants Bistro and Bakery briefly closed last March then relied on takeout options to carry it into the fall.
“We did close on March 18 for two weeks and then we ran takeout only and brought back me and kitchen manager,” said Senwick, adding that the bistro opened limiting dining in April 2020. “For a while our to-go sales outpaced our in-store service. We saw more people join us in the fall months when the weather cooled for outside dining.”
Slowly, restaurants started to fully reopen, as Gov. Henry McMaster lifted restaurant capacity restrictions in October and mask requirements in March.
But many have struggled to hire staff. According to the U.S. Dept. of Labor, staffing at restaurants and bars is 15% below pre-pandemic levels nationwide, making it difficult for many to accommodate the increase in demand.
“We are hiring for every possible position in this building and we can’t get any staff,” said Stilwell. “We’re supposed to have 40 servers, but we have 18. We have only four kitchen staff. Normally we have about 10 to 14.”
Senwick and Kimberly Williams, manager of Capriccio, have encountered similar problems.
“Our traffic is busier since people have been getting their vaccinations and since spring break,” she said. “Now I am just a little short-staffed. We have had trouble hiring.”
Proprietors are asking customers for patience.
“If you go into any restaurant, just be patient with ticket times and service,” said Stilwell. “Bear with people who are understaffed.”