When masking, social distance and capacity limits were finally lifted, New Jersey restaurants that had survived the pandemic thought their toughest days were behind them, but it turns out they were wrong.

Multiple additional cost problems are now plaguing the restaurant industry, forcing a new round of cutbacks and closures.

According to Dana Lancellotti, the president and CEO of the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association, eateries across the state are trying different ways to deal with significant price increases for food, restaurant staff salaries and deliveries of goods.

"I’ve had restaurants in New Jersey tell me they have items that have gone up 40%, so we’re talking about insane numbers," she said.

“Many of them do not want to have to pass along anything onto their customers but at the same time in order to survive they may be upping the prices on the menu and they may also be passing along a surcharge.”

Couple reading menus in restaurant
Jupiterimages, Thinkstock

Lancellotti said some restaurants are taking a loss on a few menu selections they have always offered because the real price increases for certain meat and seafood dishes are so high.

“To try to accommodate through even raising on the menu, there’s no way the customers would tolerate it,” she said.

Take it off the menu

She said in other cases restaurants are “just not providing certain items that they used to have on their menu. You may be missing your favorite dish at your favorite restaurant because they just can’t serve it right now with the costs.”

She said members of the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association are being advised to communicate with members of the public and explain all of the new challenges they are facing, online and on menu listings, so people understand why costs are up and certain selections are not available.

High gas prices making things worse

She pointed out with record gas prices food and other product delivery costs have also increased dramatically and restaurants continue to scramble for servers, cooks and hostesses because the labor shortage continues, so staying in business has become very challenging.

“The profit margins are very, very small in restaurants, when you’re talking about a typical mom and pop restaurant they’re looking at 3 to 5% pre-taxes.”

They feel cursed

Lancellotti said sometimes it feels like restaurants have had a curse put on them since the start of the pandemic.

“It seems that they just keep getting another kick in the gut, it’s just one more thing after another,” she said.

She said restaurant owners are hard-working persistent people and “the ones that are still standing are still standing because they found ways to survive and they were not willing to give up.”

“People love to go out to eat but we just ask the public to remember when you go into a restaurant you will need to be patient in many cases. The restaurants have had to make so many adjustments to accommodate this new world that we’re in.”

David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at david.matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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