Restaurant week arrives as the industry continues to struggle

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GAYLORD — Restaurant Week in Gaylord comes as eating establishments in the area face tough conditions.

A lack of workers, rising food prices and the lingering effects of the coronavirus pandemic have left restaurants struggling in the region. The Gaylord Area Chamber of Commerce, which is sponsoring Restaurant Week April 18-24, has just six restaurants lined up for this year’s promotion.

These are Alpine Tavern & Eatery, CRAVE Pasta Pizza Pub, Culver’s, Firehouse Subs, Jet’s Pizza and the Pine Squirrel. More information can be found in the Chamber website.

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The event usually begins with the Taste of Gaylord, an in-person affair that features food and drink from restaurants and other bands for the public to sample. After consulting with members and restaurants, chamber marketing and events specialist Sarah Harding said this year’s Taste of Gaylord has been postponed.

“Everyone is operating with a small crew and they really didn’t have the staff for an on-site operation,” Harding said.

Recently, in a social media post, Andy Behrenwald, the owner of Gobblers, said he would be closing the Gaylord restaurant in part due to a lack of staff.

“We’ve lost restaurants over the last two years,” Harding said. “(Gobblers) didn’t have the staff at the Gaylord site indicating that they couldn’t ask their families to work seven days and 90 hours a week. I have enormous sympathy for that.”

Behrenwald intends to keep the Waters site open, saying on Facebook “there are still (seven) loyal Waters staff who worked at Gaylord this winter to keep the site open. Waters is a newer building and bigger, without the problems of the city.”

Restaurant business in Northern Michigan, the state and the nation is seeing a smooth return after mandatory closings and restrictions on hours of operation and the ability to contain the spread of COVID-19.

In January, the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association released state data from a nationwide survey of more than 4,000 restaurants by the National Restaurant Association.

According to the survey, since the start of the pandemic, restaurants have:

  • Additional accumulated debt
  • Delay in expenditure
  • Are less profitable

Other key findings include that the majority of restaurants surveyed have not experienced a full recovery in sales to pre-pandemic levels. Sales volume in 2021 was lower than in 2019. And only 23% of operators reported an increase in same-store sales between 2019 and 2021.

Higher menu prices attributed to sales growth in 2021 as operators were forced to offset sharply rising costs Customer traffic levels also remained below 2019 levels for most restaurants.

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