Restaurant Association of Maryland President and CEO Marshall Weston said Thursday that staffing and supply shortages are still among the most serious challenges facing the restaurant industry.
Below is an edited excerpt of an interview with Weston. Weston also discussed how inflation has impacted restaurant patrons, expectations for the upcoming holiday season, dining preferences, and policy suggestions for issues facing the industry.
MarylandReporter.com: How are restaurants faring so far this fall?
Weston: The biggest problem that restaurants continue to have is the lack of employees to run their restaurants at full capacity. This is really the one thing that is holding restaurants back from moving out of the pandemic and really getting on the road to recovery.
Also, the supply chain issues that we have continued to see has increased the price for almost everything that a restaurant is dealing with. And in some cases, they are not even able to get some food items.
All of these issues are holding us back from really getting forward to where we want to be.
MarylandReporter.com: How serious of concern is inflation for restaurants?
Weston: We have to keep a close eye on inflation because our industry is reliant on those with discretionary income. If you are someone who typically eats out twice a week, but because of inflation your meal is going to cost you more-you may consciously choose to maybe cut back to only a once-a-week. And if we have everyone in the state of Maryland doing that, that does trickle down restaurants and the recovery as a whole.
We are very concerned about inflation taking away from people’s discretionary income. That really can affect restaurants.
MarylandReporter.com: What are some of the additional challenges restaurants face as the weather gets colder and the holiday season approaches?
Weston: There are still some people who are concerned about Covid. They may be in the minority at this point. It does appear that restaurants are getting some groups of people that want to book holiday parties and office parties like they saw in the past.
But those numbers are not where they were before the pandemic. So, it is a small sign that things are moving forward. But I think that ultimately it is going to be the lack of employees and not being able to handle the demand of people wanting to go out and eat over the holidays.
It is concerning that we may end up unintentionally frustrating our customers because we will not be able to handle as many people as we normally do. That is an experience that no restaurant wants to have. But, unfortunately, if you do not have enough employees to meet the demand, people are probably going to have to wait longer than they are used to.
MarylandReporter.com: What would you say is the numerical breakdown of patrons who want to eat outdoors versus indoors?
Weston: We do not hear much about that from restaurants now. I personally have not heard a restaurant give feedback one way or the other for several months regarding outdoor versus indoor dining. We acknowledge that there are most likely some people that are still a little bit uncomfortable eating indoors. But it is not a trend that we see.
Because of the pandemic, a lot of places figured out a way to do carry out and take out better than they did prior to the pandemic. People continue to rely on that and utilize that as well. The indoor versus outdoor is not really a big conversation that we are hearing restaurants talk about right now.
That could change when the weather gets colder. But right now that does not appear to be a trend.
MarylandReporter.com: The start of the General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session is less than two months away. What should lawmakers do or not do to help restaurants?
Weston: The message should be very clear that restaurants continue to struggle to get on a road to recovery. Throughout the pandemic, local governments and state governments were very supportive of restaurants and put things in place to help them to be able to remain open and keep employees working.
They need to continue to go down that road. We cannot afford to have policies and regulations and things placed upon our industry that are going to make the situation even worse.
We would like to see the General Assembly continue to support restaurants and small businesses in ways that can help them recover and to avoid policies and mandates that would hold us back and be a detriment.