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How to help Mom and Pop restaurants in the holidays and New Year

The restaurant business is tough and it would be difficult to argue that it's ever been more challenging than during the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of restaurants have shut their doors since April 2020 and a lot that have managed to stay open are buried in debt.

Not only have food prices risen dramatically since the beginning of the pandemic, it's harder to find people to do the work that needs to be done to have a restaurant function as it should. There is also a fundamental business model issue that has emerged since the pandemic that some restaurants have done well adapting to and others much less so.

Early on in the pandemic, many restaurants that were "fine dining" decided to make a a switch. Knowing they couldn't accommodate customers inside for sit-down meals, they dramatically pared down their menus and made extended hours available for people to pick up takeout food. That worked extremely well and resulted in net new customers and dollars for a lot of those restaurants.

But when the restrictions were relaxed, it seems as if the majority of those restaurants reverted to their original business model.

There was a high-end restaurant a couple of blocks from where we live, and I would go there during the pandemic to pick up their absolutely amazing fried rice. Once this restaurant was able to accommodate sit-down customers, they not only ended their take-out service entirely, they stopped making the fried rice. I am not close to my comfort level in going and having a meal in a restaurant yet, so the fact that I couldn't actually support that restaurant two or three times a week with a $15 bowl of fried rice seemed absolutely ridiculous.

And they weren't the only restaurant I know that did that. The rule rather than the exception seems to be to cut off your net new customers and dollars in exchange for the old business model that you couldn't use for approximately a year.

So, how can we each help local restaurants as we enter not only the holiday season but in the new year? What concrete things can we do to help the restaurants we love survive?

The first and most important is to do your best to support local small food businesses. With food price increases and shortages, most suppliers will first take care of their larger customers. A small restaurant is often going to be at the bottom of their suppliers' delivery priority and will have less choice and no leverage in bargaining on price. As the wholesale and retail cost of chicken wings, for example, goes up, your neighborhood restaurant is at a significant disadvantage against huge restaurant chains in getting enough wings at a price it can afford.

We should also be far more understanding when it comes to the price we're being charged for our meals. Small restaurants have absolutely no choice but to pass on cost increases to their customers.

Finally, for the small local restaurants we know well, we should do something really simple during this holiday season. Check in on the people who run the business you love to patronize. Ask them how things are going and whether there's anything you can do to help. It might be something as simple as writing a Google review or an Instagram post sharing how great they are and how amazing their food is. These small things, done collectively, can be very powerful and persuade people who tend to eat at big box food chains to spend a higher percentage of their eat-in and take-out restaurant budget on those mom-and-pop restaurants.

It's still going to be a long haul ahead, with food shortages and price increases on the horizon for a while to come. As with many things in life, we vote with our actions. If we value these local food businesses, we need to support them in this holiday season and beyond. If we don't, more and more of these businesses won't be around when we celebrate the 2022 holidays, and that would be a real shame.

Aron Solomon wrote this for InsideSources.com.

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