The restaurant industry as most businesses here in New Jersey barely weathered the pandemic. Over a whopping 100 local New Jersey restaurants closed their doors forever in 2022. That does not include major restaurant closings for chain restaurants and franchises that went away. The beginning of 2023 looked promising to stop the bleeding of closures and begin to build up what we lost.

The closing and loss of some of these restaurants were like losing a great friend. They had been around for years, some destination places and some local neighborhood restaurants that locals would flock to every night. The restaurants that have remained open barely escaped the carnage and are now slowly starting to get back to pre-pandemic numbers.

In a survey that was conducted by The New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association at the end of August, it was noted that while business is up, costs were killing profits.

Here is the data:

  • In the new survey, 84% of operators said their total food and beverage costs are higher than they were 2019 and many other expenses are up.
  • 59% of operators say their total occupancy costs are higher than 2019
  • 74% of operators say their total utility costs are higher than 2019
  • 93% of operators say their other operating costs (supplies, G&A, etc.) are higher than 2019
Ali Inay via Unsplash
Ali Inay via Unsplash

Fast forward to May and costs are higher than they were six months ago. Leaving no choice for restaurant owners to increase the price of food offered on their menus. Increased costs in produce, seafood and meat have made coming back from the pandemic an uphill struggle. Even with increased prices those restaurants that have survived are still pumping out outstanding dishes and serving their customers to the delight of those who frequent their establishments albeit at a slightly increased cost.

In talking with some of my Jersey chefs they all admit running their business is similar to a heavyweight prize fight. They may lose a round or two but they are in it for the entire fight and to win.

In seeing several publications I am shocked by the number of new restaurants that are opening in 2023 here in The Garden State. They are upscale, casual and neighborhood places. Some are new adventures by former owners of places that have closed and others are the new wave of chefs testing the waters for the first time.

We enjoy dining out here in New Jersey. I cherish the good restaurants that put out good products and support them when I can. I know that times are tough but if you can treat yourself and your family and friends to a night out of great dining here in New Jersey, there are still many choices abound. Happy eating and good luck to my friends in the New Jersey restaurant industry.

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The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 weekend host Big Joe Henry. Any opinions expressed are Big Joe’s own.

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