Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Where Y’Eat: Getting Back Open, Restaurants Are Not Back to Normal

mcnulty help wanted.png
Ian McNulty
Help wanted signs are everywhere across the hospitality sector now as more parts of the economy try to revive.

When you’re vaccinated, and the people around you are vaccinated, things can start to feel kind of, sort of, almost normal. Handshakes instead of elbow bumps, time in the same room instead of on Zoom, social plans instead of social distancing.

But things are not normal at the places we go to celebrate this feeling of renewal - our restaurants and bars.

They can feel upbeat and even joyous after too long apart. But back to normal? Not even close.

Businesses that have been hanging on for dear life cannot simply turn the switch and be back to full performance. The shutdown was swift and devastating. Building back will be gradual.

Right now, they can’t do it all. They can’t seat every table they want to, even if you see empty ones. They can’t accommodate every request you bring them, even if you think they should be grateful that you’re back. They can’t wave away mask rules even if they wanted to.

You can hear that local restaurants are allowed to resume 100% capacity and think that settles that. But restaurants and bars are required to maintain six feet distancing between tables, and for most of them that sets the true limit on capacity.

Staff is a more complex issue still. Thousands of jobs evaporated at once last year. Rebuilding the workforce takes more time, and in many cases the terms and expectations for these jobs are shifting.

The future may well bring changes to how service industry people are paid, the benefits they can access and the prices that customers will pay to cover it all. What’s certain right now though, is when you go out you’ll find short-handed operations where the people who are back on the job are hustling to keep up.

But of all the things in short supply right now – from staff to capacity- we can make sure what doesn't run out is patience and the sense of purpose that has brought us this far together.

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat.