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Where Y’Eat: New Orleans Restaurants and a Summer That’s Far from Normal

Ian McNulty
Summer in New Orleans during the height of the pandemic was slow and still. What does summer 2022 have in store?

The calendar says summer started June 21, which basically tells us calendars don’t know New Orleans. We all know summer really starts immediately after Jazz Fest and lasts until sometime around Halloween.

Still, the “official” start of summer signals what is historically the roughest time of the year for New Orleans restaurants. Things could be different this summer, though, considering the history we have lived through and with which we are still contending.

Will it be the normal slog of low tourism, slow business and inevitable restaurant closures? Or will the pent-up desire to get out and experience life carry through the swelter?

Either way, restaurants seem to be facing a double-edged sword of summer ahead.

After absorbing all the hits of the pandemic, they badly need the boost of a busier-than-normal summer season. But at the same time, most can’t always handle the business. Right now, so many restaurants are running flat out, trying to keep up with demand while short-staffed and while trying to rewrite the old business models around spiraling cost hikes across the operation.

It's enough to make the plain old New Orleans summer doldrums seem like a breeze.

We have to go back to 2019 to find the last “normal” New Orleans summer. The pandemic dictated terms for restaurants over the last two years much more than the usual seasonal rhythms.

That’s why plunging into summer 2022 makes me particularly worried. Restaurants have been on the ropes for so long now, the usual coping mechanisms may not work.

Heading into deep summer though, some restaurant people tell me they’re actually hoping for a slowdown this season, after a frenetic spring.

This could be a season to reset, and maybe even try to restructure for the higher costs and changing business conditions they have to navigate now.

What they can still rely on, hopefully, is their best customers, the locals and those visitors who are so faithful and frequent they practically count as locals to the restaurants.

That at least is one thing that should endure through whatever this inscrutable summer throws our way.

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