The calendar says summer begins on June 21, little information that basically tells us the calendars don’t define New Orleans. We all know that summer really starts right after the Jazz Festival and lasts until sometime around Halloween.
However, the “official” start of summer marks what has historically been the toughest time of the year for New Orleans restaurants. Things might be different this summer, though, given the history we’ve had and which we’re still competing with.
Will it be the natural prong of low tourism, sluggish business and the inevitable restaurant closures? Or, with the pandemic clearly at a different stage now, with no restrictions or mandates in place, will the pent-up desire to get out and experience life in a social, not socially distant, way persist through heat?
Either way, it looks like restaurants face a double-edged sword next summer.
After absorbing all the effects of the pandemic, restaurants desperately need to promote a busier than usual summer season. But at the same time, most of them are not always able to cope with business. Right now, there are many restaurants operating in excess, trying to keep up with demand with staff shortages and while trying to rewrite old business models around spiraling cost increases through the process.
It’s enough to make the old New Orleans summer slump feel like a breeze.
We have to go back to 2019 to find another “normal” summer in New Orleans. The pandemic has placed much more demands on restaurants over the past two years than the usual seasonal rhythms.
But don’t forget how harsh the season can usually be for restaurants. Research from this paper in 2018 found that nearly half of New Orleans restaurant closings over the previous decade occurred in the summer months, and that full-service restaurant revenue fell 30% in the summer from the peak of the winter months.
The response, in normal years, is well practiced. Restaurants shut the doors, trim the sails, and often indulge in the profits they made in the good times to beat it.
That’s why I’m particularly concerned about indulging in the summer of 2022. Restaurants have been on the alert for a long time, and the usual coping mechanisms may not work.
Restaurants pretty much on their own to see the way. The latest round of federal relief funding, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, quickly depleted last year, and despite pleas and campaigns from much-needed small businesses, lawmakers have seized opportunities to replenish that fund.
That has left $1 billion in relief requests from Louisiana restaurants alone unfunded, according to the Louisiana Restaurant Association. Nearly 3,000 restaurants in the state that applied were disqualified when the underfunded ran out.
I’m afraid this will leave many restaurants just one fell swoop away from closing, whether it’s the kind of family trouble that can plague the youngest mums and pops, the failure of local infrastructure or (you have to admit it) a devastating or devastating hurricane. , as we saw clearly after Hurricane Ida.
There is good news ahead. This summer marks the return of some major events for the first time across the pandemic. This includes Essence, June 30-July 3, and Tales of the Cocktail, the spirits industry conference, returning July 25-29.
Restaurant week is now underway, an effort to add a spark at the start of summer. Coolinary, the always popular campaign for menu deals at many restaurants, returns in August.
As summer approaches deep, some restaurant workers tell me they are already hoping for a slowdown this season, after a frenetic spring.
This may seem inconsequential to companies that have lost so much. But there are factors for bandwidth, energy, and morale off the balance sheet, too.
This could be a season to reset, and perhaps even try to restructure for the high costs and changing business conditions they have to navigate now.
What they can still count on, hopefully, are their best customers, the locals, and those loyal and frequent visitors who are practically locals to restaurants.
That’s at least one thing we have to put up with during whatever this mysterious summer throws our way.
I passed by covered bars and toasted them with a Go-Cup from the house, hoping they would come back, despite not knowing how and when they could.
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