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Restaurants struggle to reopen and bring customers back

NOW: Restaurants struggle to reopen and bring customers back

MISHAWAKA, Ind. - This weekend has been circled on the calendars of local restaurant owners since mid-March.

The first weekend restaurants will be open in Indiana since coronavirus shut everyone down. So it seems like a good time to talk about the future of this industry.

For the past four weeks, ABC57 has been working for you, taking a closer look at the future of different industries and businesses post-pandemic

So what’s in store for local eateries?

Well, restaurants like Corndance Tavern have been closed for months, losing thousands in profits and struggling to pay their employees.

That all changed Monday when they were finally allowed to re-open. But just because the doors are open, doesn’t mean people will walk inside. So what’s next moving forward?

It’s been two months since you could join your family or friends for a meal at a local restaurant and Michiana business owners are feeling it.

“With 2019, we came off of a record year for all of our restaurants 2020 was shaping up to be even better than that. And then it just turned the lights off, you're done, you know, like it was a gut punch,” Drew Sachau, Corporate Chef for Market Fresh Gourmet said.

Amber Goddard has managed Hensell’s Oaken Bucket for years and has never seen anything like this.

“We just opened up last week for carry-out just to get back into the swing of things” “it was a real struggle,” Goddard said.

Amber’s not the only restaurant worker struggling, Patrick Tamm with the Indiana Restaurant and Lodging Association says hundreds of thousands of people in Indiana are without jobs.

“66% of Indiana restaurants were actually closed. We've laid off over 80 plus percent of restaurant employees throughout the state in Indiana, so over 200,000 people the state is poised to lose in this month alone, 920 million dollars’ worth of restaurant sales [take super] in just the month of April,” Tamm said.

May 11th was the first day of the new normal when Indiana restaurants were allowed to reopen to 50% capacity.

In less than a month, on June 14th they can open up to 75% capacity and on July 4th they can open up fully.

And a new normal means extra precautions in place like mask and social distancing requirements.

“Well, we provide all of the employees with masks and gloves. We’re taking temperature upon arrival, just make sure and also asking them general health questions to make sure everyone is good to go. And then we've spaced all of our tables six feet apart on the outside,” Goddard said.

But do new safety measures guarantee that folks will seize the opportunity to sit down and enjoy a meal? Local workers hope so.

“You're paying for the experience,” Sachau said. “We want to get out we want to socialize, and that we're betting is always going to be there. That's the solid base and foundation of our business.”

“I think people will be scared at first. But once they start hearing and seeing about all of the different precautions that all the restaurants are taking, I feel like they'll start venturing out again,” Goddard said.

But Michiana residents I talked with feel differently.

“Absolutely not because I don’t think it’s safe because I have two kids and the last thing I want is for my kids to get sick just eating inside a restaurant or something,” Brian Cadenhead said.

“No not right now, it’s a little soon to me so I want to see the cases go down,” Nicole Stroub said. “Know it’s out there, so I don’t really… I have two boys so I don’t want to get them involved.”

Residents not convinced that now is the right time to be sharing a meal--

“I think it’s maybe a little early,” Eric Eckei said. “I don’t really want to give it to somebody else.”

Officials say there is a simple way to still support your favorite eateries and keep everyone safe.

“If you have a fever, [take super] don't come into a restaurant. If you've been exposed to somebody that is sick, don't come into a restaurant. If you're waiting for a result of a test, don't come into a restaurant,” Tamm said.

Sachau, a corporate chef that consults with restaurants like Evil Czech and Corndance says this reopening process will be difficult.

“It's impossible for us to operate at 50% capacity, long term, the reality of our of our world, our situation. And the reason why restaurants have been hit so hard is because we operate on very, very slim margins,” he said.

Slim margins with most, if not all of the profits going to loans, rent payments, and other costs that they couldn’t pay for during the closures.

"Trying to pay that back when most restaurants have one or two weeks worth of cash on hand is almost impossible,” Tamm said.

So that’s why officials believe we’re going to see a complete reworking of the restaurant business model.

“I think absolutely, you're going to see a continued push towards digital ordering, which really is carry out and delivery,” he said.

And because delivery services charge restaurants an additional fee, that cost will probably be passed along to the consumer

“I think the public needs to start realizing, hey you want certain things in certain ways, there may need to add some price reflection,” he said.

So in the end, your restaurant experience will change and potentially get more expensive, but local eateries still need your help to stay in business.

"I think life, in general, has changed and there will be a new normal. What that will be, obviously everybody has a giant question mark for that right now,” Sachau said. “We just encourage people to support local.”

Another problem restaurants are dealing with right now is supply, the nation is currently under a meat shortage.

Suppliers say they can handle the local market right now but it might not be the case moving forward.

This means higher demand for items would drive up the cost and ultimately prices at your favorite restaurant as well.

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