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Restaurant owners “cautiously optimistic” but still struggling with food shortage and staffing challenges

Updated: Oct. 7, 2020 at 6:35 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Many restaurants are still struggling to survive, and some reports suggest a staggering number of them could close permanently by the end of October.

“In surveys of independent restaurants and bars taken in May and July, owners and workers were asked about their current operational procedures, the challenges they face in staying open, and their outlook for the future. The results revealed independent bars and restaurants had, on average, just 66% confidence they could stay operational through October,” according to a survey study completed by the James Beard Foundation.

However, some restaurant owners in the Lowcountry are feeling much more optimistic, though cautious, about the financial future of their businesses, especially since Gov. Henry McMaster lifted capacity restrictions last week.

According to the Summerville Chamber of Commerce, Taco Boy’s location in Nexton they are moving to 85% capacity at this week and then full, 100% capacity later this month.

“They have the space to be able to do that, but not everybody can.” the chamber’s director of marketing and communication, Jena Ferguson, said.

Smaller locations, like Eva’s on Main, aren’t able to return to full capacity because of the other restaurant safety guidelines that are still in effect, like 6 feet between tables for social distancing and the required use of face coverings for patrons and staff.

“In order for me to adhere to the six-foot guideline, it still limits my capacity,” Eva’s owner Whitney Easler said. “For us it’s still a compromise, and that’s okay. Even though we would certainly would like for our business level to grow and be able to seat a little more capacity in the dining room that helps us to maximize our revenue and to hopefully be able to make a profit and keep our doors open, at the same time, the safety of our customers and our employees is really paramount.”

Restaurants are also dealing with several other challenges that are beyond their control right now like a shortage of food, higher prices for products, and limited staffing.

“Almost immediately there was a shortage of food. We try to source locally which is a little more time consuming now because you never know what your vendors will have and what they won’t,” Easler said. “You don’t know what you’re going to get. My husband, who is my business partner, he spends a lot of time outside the restaurant running all over town trying to find the items that don’t show up and that we are missing.”

Restaurants are also struggling to rebuild their staffs. A new study from the National Restaurant Association says it could be years, instead of months, before the restaurant industry, as a whole, can return to pre-coronavirus employment levels.

“We are perpetually short staffed in our kitchen,” Easler said. “You do scramble. We are short staffed. Today, would be the perfect example of that, I am short staffed today in both the kitchen and the front of the house. But you make it work, and our customers have been very patient, and they understand.”

Despite the grim outlook, many restaurant owners, like Easler, remain cautiously optimistic about how the economy is moving forward.

“The silver lining is we have a lot of locals that do follow us and have stuck it out with us and continue to dine with us,” Easler said. “They understand the situation we are in and have been very supportive.”

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