Life in General Supporting Small Businesses

Dining Out During the Pandemic

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My friend Chrisanne and I were discussing some possible projects for her shop, Chrisanne’s Life and while talking about the cost of certain supplies for the items that she makes, our conversation lead to a discussion about rising costs in general. As an example, she mentioned that she and her family recently dined at a restaurant and for her family of 4, it cost roughly $100 just for burgers. It was surprising to her that what used to be considered a more reasonably priced choice now cost almost as much as a “higher end” meal. Yep, it’s the cost of dining out during the pandemic.

There’s no denying it, we’re paying more for a lot of stuff now as a result of the pandemic and we don’t often stop to think about the reasons why. Did you know; for example that some industry sources state that it can cost a restaurant almost as much to reopen as it did to start up in the first place? Don’t forget that about 60% of new restaurants failed within the first year and 80% within the first five prior to the pandemic, so this has always been a tough industry to survive to start with!

New FDA Guidelines have so much more regarding keeping staff and customers safe. Not that our favorite restaurants weren’t clean before, but the checklist covers so much we don’t often consider.

With reduced capacities for in house dining and increases in deliveries or curb side pick up, there are increased costs for these “to go” packages – more containers, bags, etc. than they were purchasing when they could keep their dining rooms full. Many have started using disposables for in house dining as well, as it may be cheaper for them than running their dishwashers more often with less in them, or paying extra staff to handle it. Speaking of disposables; don’t forget about the increased cost of masks, gloves for more of the staff than in the past and the cost of hand sanitizer, which is about triple the cost of what it was a year ago. Some have opted for paper menus that are thrown out after each customer, where others are spending money on sanitizing stations just to clean their laminated menus in between customers.

Some restaurants have reduced hours or even days of operation to allow for “deep cleaning” time and some just to save the cost of firing up their stoves, replenishing food and disposables as often. Others open their dining rooms less and offer delivery or curbside pickup full time to save the cost associated with staffing and cleaning the dining area throughout the day. If they don’t have their own delivery staff, there are costs associated with making use of those third party delivery services as well, so they may not be paying a server, but they’re still paying someone to bring your meal to you.

While all of these changes have added to the operating costs of your favorite “mom ‘n pop shop” , some things haven’t changed. There is still rent for the space, which is of course, per square foot, not per table or customer. There’s payroll tax, property/casualty and workman’s comp insurance, utilities, etc. that cost as much (and in some cases more) as they did prior to the pandemic. Don’t forget about the merchant charges applied every time we present our debit or credit card rather than pay with cash. You may not know this, but in some cases, those merchant charges can double if your card is a rewards card (miles, cash back, etc.).

What does all of this mean when you’re dining out during the pandemic? You may see a Covid Surcharge added to your bill to help offset the additional cost to keep you safe and still offer the convenience of dining out. Still other restaurants have chosen to raise the prices of their offerings across their menus because that option to be more palatable (pun intended) to their customers. Passing along the cost to consumers is nothing new, but may be a more noticeable to us because we’re all watching what we spend more than we did before. I’ve had many discussions with family and friends in the past 6 months about how much money we’re saving by not dining out during the pandemic. What we’re really saying is that we didn’t realize how much money we were spending on dining out before the pandemic, since if we haven’t been dining out during, we haven’t really seen these increased costs anyway.

So the next time you are dining out during the pandemic, keep these things in mind when you get that sense of “sticker shock” when looking at the menu or the final bill. More importantly, please support your local small businesses and be kind to your servers!

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