Rio Rancho area restaurants have seen many challenges during the pandemic and worked hard to rebuild their businesses. Almost two years ago the pandemic and still there are capacity limits. At the height of the closures in 2020, places like Ten Pins Bowling Lanes were closed for twenty-three weeks and lost significant revenue that will not be recovered this year, next year or never. “The revenue loss is significant, when you lose two-thirds of your revenue in a year no business is ready for that loss,” said Steve Mackie, owner, and manager of Ten Pins. Today restaurants and entertainment centers still have limited capacity but this time it is due to supply chain shortages, limited staffing, and increased costs of doing business.

The supply chain shortages and inflation have impacted owners and has each of them looking into their crystal ball to determine what items are available now and will they be available in the coming weeks. This has resulted in menu changes or alterations that may impact the customer experience. “Costs of items like beef and chicken wings have increased 50% to 70% over the last year, and restaurant owners do not want to pass the increased charge to customers,” said Todd Mack, co-owner Slate Street Billiards and Grill. The restaurant industry is known for having smaller margins, but now many food establishments are experiencing higher cost on all levels. In addition to standard food costs, the To Go business has dramatically increased since the pandemic began. Todd said, Container costs have nearly doubled, which is further eating up costs and profits. Many owners have been looking at some creative items to offer that did not include some of the basic items like beef that is seeing double digit increases.

Along with food price increases, another challenge for small businesses has been staffing. Many businesses are running at 50% to 80% of their pre-pandemic staffing

levels, which has created undo stress on existing employees and impacted the customer experience. Wages for employees have gone up twenty-five percent or more as well. This has created another problem with less staff and higher expenses. “Many businesses can’t afford to continue adding expenses and increasing wages without increasing prices to cover these costs,” Todd said. Many businesses may be understaffed, but their overall payroll is now higher with less employees. Steve at Ten Pins acknowledged this challenge “We are short 10% our pre-pandemic staffing, but our wages have increased by 20% or more.” Many employees are quitting their jobs with little or no notice leaving a hardship for remaining employees to cover them and adding stress to the work environment. Steve said, “We have had to reduce our open hours resulting in about 74 hours per week versus 94 hours before the pandemic.” Many comments on social media tell businesses to increase wages to retain employees, and most business have increased wages to keep their doors open. An opportunity has occurred with many businesses hiring young adults to fill positions. This new working group is aged 15 to 19, so it is a welcome return of teenage job opportunities that had almost evaporated over the last ten years. When speaking to these young employees, they are excited to have jobs and really enjoy the additional money they are making. Developing our future is building a group of future employees with strong work habits that will benefit businesses, the economy and the employee’s wallet for years to come.

Another thing weighing on business owners is the impact of social media. As businesses owners are running through a change, they are getting attacked on social media for service, smaller portions, increased prices, reduced hours and limited quantities. Many restaurants do not have the staffing to offer both to go’s and dine in service, while many more have reduced their hours. Prior to the pandemic a wide range of options existed past 9pm, as cooks prepare to go home.

Social media has been a point of attack rather than an opportunity to show compassion to the restaurant owners and their staff.

Many restaurants are finding ways to attract new customers, some restaurants are participating in events, featuring popular items as a special on certain nights, while others trying new menu items, or just letting the chefs play get creative.

After speaking with a few restaurant owners, it was a consensus they are asking for patience from their customers as they work through all these challenges. As for using social media as a sounding board, please be fair in your comments and try to speak with the owner or manager first. Steve said, “The community has supported us since we reopened, and our league participation has been outstanding” Every business owner strives for their patrons to have a memorable experience that will have their customers come back. Businesses are all in a challenging position with increased costs and staffing concerns, so patience and understanding may be the best service we can offer these businesses during this time of recovery. Please Eat, Drink, Shop, Play Local!