Even as the omicron surge continues to slow down, with new positive cases and hospitalizations dropping, many New Jersey restaurants continue to struggle almost two years after they were initially shut down by the pandemic in 2020.

Dana Lancellotti, the president and CEO of the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association, said some consumers don’t want to eat out in restaurants because of omicron and then “what they’re dealing with is continuous hits because they are understaffed, they are also hit tremendously by the overpricing of wholesale goods.”

Not enough workers

She said most restaurants are dealing with shortages of cooks or servers and support staff.

“People are expecting incentives, they’re expecting higher wages. It’s just a very difficult time to navigate as a small business that got slammed by all of this without knowing this was coming, in their business plan of the future,” she said.

She said the supply chain disruption crisis also continues to cause big problems for restaurants.

“They can’t get a lot of their normal products that they want to serve such as types of seafood and cuts of meats that are just astronomically expensive right now,” said Lancellotti.

Wholesale prices go through the roof

She noted certain items are so expensive and hard to get that “in some cases they’re losing money on some of these food items that people really want and they know are in demand.”

Lancellotti said during the first year of the pandemic, about a third of New Jersey restaurants remained closed down after they were allowed to partially reopen, but since that time some have opened again while others have gone out of business.

She said the state Restaurant and Hospitality Association does not have specific data for New Jersey, but the most recent figures from the National Restaurant Association indicate the restaurant industry currently has:

— $659 billion in sales in 2020, down $240 billion from expected levels

— 12.5 million workers at the end of 2020, down 3.1 million from expected levels

— 110,000 temporary or permanently closed

A National Restaurant Association survey of 1,000 adults, conducted during Aug. 13-15 reveals:

— 6 in 10 adults changed their restaurant use due to the rise in the delta variant

— 1 in 5 adults chose to sit outdoors if they did dine at a restaurant

— 37% said they ordered delivery or takeout instead of dining in a restaurant

— 9% canceled restaurant plans and 19% stopped dining in restaurants altogether If asked to wear masks to dine indoors again

— 32% of adults surveyed said this mandate would make them less likely to dine in a restaurant

— 25% said it would make them more likely to

— 43% said it wouldn’t impact their restaurant use either way If asked to show proof of vaccination to dine indoors

— 32% of adults surveyed said this mandate would make them less likely to dine in a restaurant

— 33% said it would make them more likely to

— 35% said it wouldn’t impact their restaurant use either way

More help is needed from the state

Lancellotti said since the pandemic began restaurants have been behind the 8-ball and state leaders need to do more to lend a helping hand.

“They suffered tremendously and continue to and yet they have had very little support as far as the funding that could be available to them,” she said.

Restaurants following COVID cleanliness rules

Restaurants are still following coronavirus cleanliness protocols.

“They’ve got staff trained really well to make sure that everything is cleaned, I think you’re safer in a restaurant now than you were any time before COVID,” she said.

She added if you want to go out to eat, “there’s always the opportunity to wear a mask if you don’t feel comfortable. A lot of the restaurants are asking (for everyone to wear a mask including staff)."

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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