Small business failings during the pandemic

Wasn’t sure where to put this, so here it is…

Without naming any names, I’m wondering if anyone else is experiencing the issues with small businesses (some food-related, some not) that I have lately. I’ll start by saying I’m VERY fond of shopping local and feel more strongly about it since the start of the pandemic. My thinking is that if I want my community to thrive, survive, and remain a year-round spot (I live at the Jersey Shore in one of the few towns that isn’t deserted in the off-season), that we all need to do our part. For those who don’t know me, I have/have had friends in the restaurant business for decades, so I do know that running a small business is NOT easy. BUUUUT.

I’ve now had at least 3 experiences where I’ve gone out of my way to patronize a business only to find that they’re open but not offering that thing they posted about on social media, or their staff isn’t masked up (so I’ve left), or I’ve made a second trip back only to find that they’re not actually ready to sell ___, or in today’s case, walked in to a place where there was NOT. ONE. STAFF. MEMBER. to be seen. After waiting (inside, where I didn’t want to be for long), I left.

Sometimes there’s a specific item I want to buy vs. ordering online from a big retailer, sometimes I want to get a gift card, and sometimes I just want takeout, but it shouldn’t matter. If this had been a one-off at one place, I’d shrug it off, but it’s (obviously) bugging me. Why are some small businesses making it so hard for (potentially) paying customers? Makes it hard to recommend that others go there…and then I’m not spending locally. SIGH.

I haven’t seen this in my daily life. I’m on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and I do most of my grocery shopping at Essex Market, the Union Square Greenmarket, and the Chinatown Supermarket. None has changed significantly in any way (other than adhering to COVID-19 restrictions). I’ve ordered in and eaten out a few times since March, and I had no trouble with any of the businesses - just nervousness about sitting too close to traffic, or getting infected, or being cold.

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That’s good to hear, esp in the city! I guess I’m frustrated by living in an area that always struggles a little in the off-season when we’re NOT dealing with a global pandemic, so these things are even more frustrating. My town happens to be a draw, with a lot of popular restaurants and bars + small stores owned by people who generally work their arses off, so it just doesn’t make sense that this is happening at so many places. Friends are reporting similar issues, so it’s not just me.

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That’s very unfortunate. Is it possible that businesses in your area (I know Monmouth County pretty well, if that’s where you are) have gotten a little “we’re the only game in town” about things? Or maybe people are just hitting the wall. I can certainly understand that.

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Yeah, I’m afraid that some businesses have been hit hard by this situation, especially restaurant businesses since in most areas they are not allowed to serve in-house dining, and that can cut more than half the profits of some establishments.

I’ve been running a restaurant business since 1995, and I’ve also experienced this kind of struggle before. I’ve actually offered free mentorship and coaching to those who have been struggling in the food service industry so they can survive this pandemic and keep their business alive and profitable.

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pity those who own a business!

We are waiting for the end of quarantine…

Of course, most of the small businesses suffered a lot during the coronavirus. let’s say my cousin had a coffee shop in Strasbourg, which she was forced to close due to restrictive measures. The most insulting thing is not only that everyone was quarantined (this is predictable. People’s health is more important than their material condition).

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I’ve gone out of my way to buy local and support small businesses during the Pandemic.

I haven’t had any significant disappointments, but I tend to avoid any restaurants after 2 strikes.

Some indie restaurants started selling groceries here in Ontario, Canada, since our indoor dining was locked down for much of 2020 and 2021. When I’ve gotten a takeout dinner, I’ve bought enough for leftovers the next day, as well as some smoked salmon, meats, and salad dressing from one small business i support.

I gave up my Costco membership about 5 years ago for other reasons, and only go to a national chain grocery store once or twice a month. I buy most of my groceries at smaller, locally owned grocery stores, or farmers markets when they’re open. I buy bread at a local bakery once a week.

I have noticed the food at a few small, inexpensive indie takeout restaurants in Toronto has gone downhill.

One changed hands- a fish & chips takeout, and I think the new owners are cheap and don’t know what good quality is. Another 3 bad experiences were an inexpensive Japanese restaurant, a inexpensive Vietnamese restaurant, and 2 inexpensive Indian takeout near where college students live- they all make a lot of money and sell a lot of meals. Again, owners being cheap and not caring about quality. 4 of the 5 of these disappointments are along the same stretch of Bloor Street in Toronto, which has a lot of restaurants serving takeout meals in the $10-$25 per person range, and a somewhat captive restaurant customer living within walking distance.

I just find the holes-in-the-walls, a few blocks further west, that are proud of what they make and sell.

I have been splurging a little more lately, so I end up with less meh food. That said , I have been focusing on midrange food. Better quality takeout. I have only had around 5 meals that cost more than $30 pp this past 18 months.

What is funny to me, is that the cheap and disappointing Vietnamese bun ( few herbs, spring roll fried in rancid oil, from a hole-in-the-wall, nice owners, though) in my neighborhood costs $20 ( an amazing Vietnamese bun might cost $14 in Chinatown), while a really delicious slice of pizza or panini at posh Eataly costs $8. I suppose the Eataly slice is a loss leader of sorts- or the most bang for the buck you could get at a fancy store.

It’s been a pattern lately that when I’m on my own, I often get a slice/sandwich/meal and a drink, to go, plus tax and tip, keeping my spending around $20, and it’s amazing how much that bang for the buck can vary.

I’m curious, how much are you tipping for takeout at indie restaurants or coffee shops? I’ve been tipping 10 percent at coffee shops or $1 per espresso drink , and around 15-20 % at indie restos where I’m a regular, 10-15% at indie restos where I’m not a regular.

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Making noodles. Phongdien Town, Cantho City, Southern Vietnam.
Credit: CiaoHo