How the pandemic has affected the restaurant industry in New Mexico

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NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – It’s no secret that COVID-19 has had a negative impact on the restaurant industry. Now, new data highlights what the New Mexico Restaurant Association has called a “sense of hopelessness” within the industry.

“I think it was just disheartening,” says Carol Wight, CEO of the New Mexico Restaurant Association. “I was really hoping that at this point we would start to see some relief.”

At several points during the COVID-19 pandemic, state-issued health orders have forced restaurants and other service businesses to close. KRQE News 13 previously reported that the closures hit employees particularly hard.

While the days of full shutdowns and dine-in closings seem behind us, the state’s restaurant industry still hasn’t recovered, according to a survey of 100 local restaurants by the New Mexico Restaurant Association. and the National Restaurant Association. “Trading conditions, employment and overall costs are the main obstacles preventing a recovery,” they said in a press release.

The majority of restaurateurs surveyed saw their total sales increase in October 2021, compared to the same period in 2020, the data showed. But about half of restaurateurs surveyed said their October 2021 sales were still below pre-pandemic levels.

And many are pessimistic about the year ahead. Just under half of restaurateurs surveyed expect 2022 sales to remain below pre-pandemic volumes. And 27% of them said that for their individual businesses, they expect conditions will never return to normal.

A major challenge for many restaurants is maintaining staffing levels. Just over 70% of operators surveyed said they did not have enough staff to meet customer demand.

Last year, KRQE News 13 reported on the hiring challenges faced by restaurants in New Mexico. And the problem isn’t just in New Mexico. National chains, such as McDonald’s, raised wages last year in a bid to attract and retain much-needed workers.

Salaries for restaurant workers are notoriously low across the country. The last Bureau of Labor Statistics data (BLS) shows that in 2020, the national average salary for restaurant servers was $13.30 per hour. The national average wage for all occupations in the United States, on the other hand, was $27.07 per hour, more than double the wage for restaurant servers.

New Mexico ranks below average in average hourly wages for supervisors, cooks, prep workers, dining room attendants, dishwashers, and fast food cafe and diner workers. other restaurants. With an average hourly wage of $11.53, restaurant workers in New Mexico are generally paid less than similar workers in Texas, Colorado, Arizona and 37 other states, according to BLS data.


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New Mexico, highlighted in yellow, has a lower average salary for restaurant workers than most other states. BLS data.


Wight of the New Mexico Restaurant Association says low wages may not be to blame for staffing shortages here in the state. “I don’t know if you can blame the low wages,” says Carol Wight, CEO of the New Mexico Restaurant Association. “We pay over $15 an hour for people to show up. And they don’t show up.

And, Wight points out that it’s not just the restaurant industry that’s experiencing staff shortages: “Everyone wants to say, ‘Well, restaurants are not a good place to work.’ And so no one goes back to the restaurant. I can’t believe it because they don’t go on Amazon either,” she says. “They don’t go back to the bank either.”

Julia Lippert, an occupational health researcher at DePaul University in Chicago, says the restaurant industry has some unique aspects that workers have had to deal with during the pandemic. In October 2021, Lippert and colleagues have published research showing that the pandemic has added new stress to an already stressful job.

“Tipping, lack of benefits, customer relations — all of those things led to unfavorable working conditions,” she told KRQE News 13. And those stress issues “were on full display. and exacerbated during the pandemic”.

“Not only were people being tipped less, but they were being physically and emotionally attacked by customers,” says Lippert. In one example, a New York worker was assaulted after asking foreign tourists for proof of vaccinations. The risk of being attacked, the added responsibility of enforcing COVID-19 protocol with customers, and the risk of getting sick on the job are likely the biggest stressors restaurant workers face, Lippert says.

“A lot of people are jumping ship for low-wage jobs because they’re not worth risking their lives for,” she says. “I think wages will go up, but I don’t trust the restaurant industry to change the other structural determinants of health.”

In addition to staff shortages, restaurants are facing rising procurement costs and supply chain issues, according to restaurant association survey data. More than half of operators surveyed said they have higher total occupancy costs – the rent for their buildings – than before the pandemic. And about 40% of respondents expect to be less profitable in 2022. “It’s not really getting better,” says Wight of the New Mexico Restaurant Association.

Deena Crawley, chief of staff at Dion’s Pizza, says they’ve had supply chain issues. “That includes everything from getting our normal trash bags to shipping delays for ingredients,” Crawley said. But unlike some restaurants, Dion’s has not experienced extreme staff shortages, Crawley told KRQE News 13.

Restaurants haven’t been totally alone during the pandemic. There have been relief funds from the state legislature and the federal government to support the restaurant industry.

KRQE News 13 previously reported how programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program have gone to restaurants in New Mexico. Dion’s, for example, secured more than $4.5 million in loans. Many restaurants, however, were not so lucky.

As an industry, “we’re not back yet,” says Wight of the New Mexico Restaurant Association. “We still need help.” And Wight urges restaurant patrons to be patient.

“Restaurants are really doing their best. And we’re doing it with fewer staff than before the pandemic. We do this with rising food costs,” says Wight. “So please be understanding, be patient when you’re at the restaurant. Be aware that things might take a little longer, but we’re trying our best.


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