A recent survey from the National Restaurant Association reveals the majority of restaurant owners say business conditions are worse now than three months ago.
An increase in restaurant reopenings over the summer has stalled, due in part to the rise in delta variant virus cases across parts of the country. The city has also seen restaurants struggle to overcome the latest blow.
New York restaurateur and culinary master Michael Lomonaco describes first hand the biggest hinderances the delta variant has posed to recovery.
Behind the doors of Lomonoco's Hudson Yards Grill is something the epicurean and gourmand has been craving — the ability to be back in the kitchen after the restaurant was shuttered for 18 months due to COVID-19. And to be hands on, once again, delivering that magic touch his regular diners have come to expect.
The native New Yorker who grew up in Brooklyn revealed he was heartbroken when he had to lay off hundreds of staff across his establishments at the start of the pandemic.
The ability to have reopened at the end of September was, Lomonaco says, an accomplishment, but he is not oblivious to the challenges he knows lie ahead.
"Okay, let me give it to you this way. All the Broadway shows are reopening at the same time. They have most of their casts back. I'm pretty sure. Here you have the restaurant industry, with everyone reopening at the same time,” Lomonaco explained. “We've never seen that before, where 10,000 restaurants all open within the same short period of time and to have to hire staffing. There's always, for a long time, there's been a shortage of staff in the restaurant world and for hospitality. But never have so many operations needed to hire so many at the same time. That was the biggest challenge."
Lomonaco is thrilled to have his key team back in place. But says COVID-19 has literally plagued the path to pre-pandemic profitability. Aside from understaffing, he believes spiking food costs and supply shortages are near-term ongoing challenges.
Adding to the industry's problems is customer demand remains muted. That's something Hudson Yards Grill has experienced as well, as its Hudson Yards home still deals with limitations, including attractions and store closures.
Lomonaco, however, remains resilient, believing in one key ingredient to survival.
"It starts with positivity, knowing you can make it again and you can do it again. To stay fresh and give yourself an opportunity, that's the key to success,” Lomonaco said.
Despite that optimism, the deck is stacked.
The National Restaurant Association expects consumer demand to be depressed in the final quarter. And 51% of restaurants say they couldn't pay their rent in September.
Rising commodity prices, inflationary pressures and supply chain challenges only add to the immediate challenges already struggling restaurants are having to face during the all important upcoming holiday season.