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KEEP THE CHANGE

‘Customers will need to learn that the restaurant business will never be the same again’

What needs to change for restaurants post-pandemic? The industry weighs in.

Jose Duarte, chef/owner of the Peruvian restauran Tambo 22 in Chelsea.
Jose Duarte, chef/owner of the Peruvian restauran Tambo 22 in Chelsea.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Second in a series.

We asked restaurant industry figures across the region a single question: If you could change one thing about your business going forward, what would it be? They had a lot to say — about customer kindness, wage discrepancies, and the labor shortage. Replies have been edited for clarity and space.

From local government, [we need] takeout alcoholic beverages to become permanent. We need a fast path to set patios on restaurants’ private property as a permanent seasonal option. It might trigger many zoning issues, but if it has worked fine for two years, why wouldn’t it work in the future? Customers want patio seating. [We also need] legislation to reduce fees on delivery apps.

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Jose Duarte, Tambo 22

The pandemic has exposed just how financially vulnerable many restaurants are, and our margins are ridiculously thin. Many in our industry just run on fumes and don’t actually earn any real income. The best of us make single-digit profits while other industries operate on 20-50 percent margins. Restaurants are an old-fashioned, labor-intensive business with lots of expensive moving parts, governed by costly government regulations. Sure, restaurant workers should all earn more — and the problem will be solved when the public is willing to pay 30-50 percent higher prices that reflects the true costs of goods and services.

– Jack Bardy, Beat Brew Hall, The Beehive, Cosmica

The labor shortage is most surviving restaurants’ biggest and most immediate problem. The only way to attract employees is to offer wages high enough to attract people back from unemployment insurance. Raising wages to above $20 per hour for kitchen and counter help is the only way — but this drives up prices to a point where customers are unhappy and feel like they are being taken advantage of. Customers will need to learn that the restaurant business will never be the same again. Restaurant prices will be up proportionally due to the labor crunch, food and beverage price increases, and increased supply-chain costs. Menus may be more limited in an attempt to be more efficient. Kitchens will be running lean, and order turnaround time may increase. Online ordering, reservations, and delivery may include additional charges, a pass-through from the third-party providers. These are just a few of the possible changes customers will need to understand about the new restaurant world.

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– Chris Lutes, Horse Thieves Tavern and Miracle of Science

In the North End, give us our valet service back. We’ve been begging for this. Give us our valet service, so we can bring people back from the suburbs.

– Frank DePasquale, DePasquale Ventures

Bessie King, general manager of Villa Mexico restaurant on Water Street in Boston.
Bessie King, general manager of Villa Mexico restaurant on Water Street in Boston.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

You can’t treat workers as horses and donkeys who are just pulling carriages. It is a catastrophe if we continue focusing on the big guys and not local workers, business owners, and their impact on our communities. Shift the focus. Most of the women we used to work with need child care. Government hasn’t made child care affordable and available. Where do they leave their kids? I had hoped for legislation that offered more help for working parents.

– Bessie King, Villa Mexico

Arpit Patel outside of Baramor.
Arpit Patel outside of Baramor. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

There are major changes that need to happen with the restaurant industry that are less talked about publicly. These matters are historically talked about behind closed doors, and that needs to change.

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Every restaurant is severely short-staffed in the kitchen. Why is this? Is this because of the unemployment pay? Or is it deeper than that? Is it because giving up your nights and weekends to work in a hot kitchen is just not worth missing watching your kids grow up? Is it because of the wage discrepancy between the front-of-house staff and back-of-house staff? The reality is that most kitchen workforces [are] made up of immigrants. Massachusetts has a law that makes it illegal to tip out back-of-house staff. This does not allow us to share the tips between all employees, but only front-of-house employees.

While the kitchen is paid a higher hourly wage than front-of-house employees, the true average hourly difference can be massive. Kitchen cooks might make $15 to $20 an hour, while front-of-house employees are making $30 to $40 an hour. Why does this wage discrepancy exist? Has the law not changed due to subtle racism? Is it because of the predominant demographic makeup of back-of-house employees? Why can’t we have a standard pay for all employees? Why can’t we tip out all employees?

The staffing issue is greater than unemployment. It is about burnout, it’s about hostile work environments, and wage discrepancies that would not be tolerated in any other industry. We all can and need to be better.

Arpit Patel, Baramor

We need to look at working in a restaurant as a lifelong sustaining career and profession. The chatter right now is about the labor shortage, but it’s not labor; it’s a wage shortage. The industry has had a year to take a step back. Workers don’t want to work for $2.63 for a patio shift that might get rained out. Massachusetts legislation right now prohibits pooling tips for the whole [staff], which creates huge disparity.

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The back of the house works harder and longer for basically scraps. I’d like to see the wage model shift: a $15 minimum wage with tips on top, so everyone has a better quality of life.

– Elle Jarvis, founder, In the Weeds, a nonprofit focusing on the financial, mental, and physical health of hospitality professionals

Constructive criticism is always welcome. It helps us improve. Management, owners, and staff would much prefer that you speak with us directly, not through a review site. We are willing and able to correct issues. Be kind.

– Sean and Sue Olson, MidiCi Assembly Row

From our customers, the main thing we need is patience. The governor lifting all restrictions was a welcome respite, but at the same time caught us completely by surprise. We still need more time to hire staff.

Recently, we received our only one-star review from Yelp!, ever. They loved the food but were upset that their server did not know the menu or the wine list. The server was my 19-year-old daughter who was filling in for the night as we are understaffed. I explained the situation to the customer, and they were kind enough to remove the review. But please, hold off on negative online reviews. We greatly appreciate our customers and are so excited to serve them. We just need a little time to get back up to speed.

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– Robert Harris, Season to Taste


Kara Baskin can be reached at kara.baskin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.