As most everyone knows, the restaurant industry was greatly impacted by COVID-19. Not only did sales take a big hit, but our collective psyche did as well. We had to operate in a whole new manner with regards to customer service, operating rules, guidelines and limited capacity, all of which challenged everyone’s survival.
Sadly, some did not make it. Through several different surges in the virus, we had to learn how to survive the best we could on takeout sales. I feel incredibly fortunate to have received help from the Paycheck Protection Program. Without it, we would have also probably failed.
With the arrival of the vaccines, it is my hope that we can soon put the pandemic behind us. I have been in the restaurant business since 1985, when I helped start Patrick’s Pub in Pittsfield. I left Patrick’s in 2008 and four years later started Electra’s. I’ve been through a few ups and downs over the years, but this challenge has been the most difficult because so much is out of our control. That said, I have always tried to think things through to survive the challenging times.
So, how do we do that? A lesson we learned last year is that people really seemed to enjoy dining outdoors.
Last year, we rented a tent for the summer to hold outdoor dining. It was harder on the staff to do so, but it allowed us to have a decent summer with approximately half of our capacity. This year, with the help of my landlord, Eric Taylor, we are going to pour a stamped concrete pad in front of the restaurant, where we will have a tent for outdoor dining. We also will have several tables available indoors with booth dividers and two commercial air purifiers.
Staffing has been another challenge. It has been difficult recruiting enough help to reopen in the way that we would like.
Our industry relies on people whose children are usually in school while they are working, but because so many youngsters are attending classes virtually now, their parents need to be at home, which results in a shortage of job candidates. Complicating matters is that everyone is trying to staff up now for what they hope will be a busy summer.
Being able to adapt will be the way forward. I will tailor my business hours to the help that I can get. It may mean I’m not open as much, but I believe it’s better to sacrifice some sales as opposed to quality and running my staff into the ground.
A plus this summer could be an increase in the local population. Since the pandemic hit, many people have moved to the Berkshires from big cities, believing the rural life is a better alternative to urban sprawl. We believe that takeout sales will be a bigger part of our daily sales than they have been in the past.
I am forever grateful to my staff for hanging in there with me. We are small, but we are fierce. I am so proud of the job they have done. I am optimistic for the future but will stay flexible. I’m prepared to deal with whatever comes our way.