Please Be Patient, Restaurants Are Trying Their Best

From labor shortages to COVID-19 protocols, restaurant spaces are different. Service is different. So adjust your expectations.

illustration of snail waiter
Photo: Franz Lang

This story is part of The New Rules of Dining Out. Read the rest here.

Remember last fall, when kitchen burnout snuck up on us? Without unfettered access—to cafes where we grab breakfast and bistros where we sit at the bar with a burger when we're just too tired to cook—we learned how hard it can be to feed ourselves every day. When restaurants reopened, for a while, there was a seemingly collective, palpable sense of appreciation. But as that appreciation wanes, even while the pandemic hasn't, chefs and operators are urging diners to be patient.

Restaurants are facing a labor shortage across the board, which, says Gabriella Valls of Ponyboy in New York City, "puts pressure on current employees to carry longer hours and to do tasks they have not received proper training for." As a result, service might look different than it did in the past.

Also contributing to this new reality: Ever-changing COVID-19 protocols that make Andre Fowles of Miss Lily's in New York feel like he's "opening a new restaurant every week." Add to that the breakdown of supply chains, causing everything from a box of gloves to a new refrigeration unit more difficult (and expensive) to procure, and even the restaurant's changing physical space. Cédric Vongerichten, owner of Wayan in New York, says they added seats outdoors to compensate for fewer seats indoors, but the new setup makes service a bit slower. "When we designed the restaurant, we didn't really think about having another 30 to 40 seats outdoors," he says. Little things—like a lack of waiter stations where servers have access to extra silverware, and the extra time it takes to get from the kitchen outside—can mean delivering food to your table takes longer. "It makes it a little harder to give the same experience," says the chef.

It doesn't mean restaurants aren't trying, though, and it's on diners to be more patient. "All we want is to give our customers the best experience possible," says Amanda Cohen of New York's Dirt Candy and Lekka Burger. "But we can't do that if their expectations are from 2019."

Below, chefs and restaurant owners explain why the industry could use continued patience.

Don't use Yelp or Instagram but actively be part of the solution when you are in the restaurant.

There are staffing shortages

"The hospitality industry is facing a multitude of challenges, the first being staffing shortages which have forced restaurants to limit days and hours of service. It affects everything from the host stand to the kitchen. Be patient with blips and communicate in a nice way with the restaurant if you are having challenges in your experience. Don't use Yelp or Instagram but actively be part of the solution when you are in the restaurant." —Amy Brandwein, chef of Centrolina, Washington, D.C.

"We are experiencing heavy labor shortages without a clear end in sight. The staff that have joined us again are most likely working longer shifts and are serving more tables and guests than ever before." —Vincent Lesage, area director of culinary experiences at The Meritage Resort & Spa, Napa, California

"I know the feeling of going to one of your favorite neighborhood restaurants only to realize that the dish you love is no longer on the menu, or the attentive and timely service you were previously accustomed to is now lacking. On the other side of this picture, it is important to understand that owners and employees alike stress about these concerns every day before the doors open for service. Labor shortages have caused a strain on the wait staff and in the kitchen, as well." —Andre Fowles, chef and culinary director of Miss Lily's, New York City

And as a result, staff is new

"I think it's less about patience and more about empathy and understanding. More and more, our staff is green and newer to the industry, which may result in more trainees working on a Friday or Saturday evening—something we would normally try to reserve for slower service nights. —Rose Noel, executive chef of Maialino Mare, Washington, D.C.

Just because we were fortunate enough to catch a breath, doesn't mean that it's over.

They're still experiencing supply chain problems

"I don't want to pay $150 for a box of gloves anymore. If I lose a refrigeration unit, I have to wait three months for [a new one.] There's a supply issue, whether it's humans, or stainless steel, or gloves. … We're going through something. And just because we were fortunate enough to catch a breath, doesn't mean that it's over. The pandemic is not over by a longshot." —Cheetie Kumar, chef and owner of Garland, Raleigh, North Carolina

"The pandemic seems to have ended from a customer perspective, but the restaurant is still in the fallout period. The ingredient and labor price is abnormally high and restaurants are struggling to balance the business. That struggle will reflect in the experience with the restaurant such as long wait to be served, smaller menu etc." —Yong Zhao, co-founder and CEO of Junzi Kitchen and Nice Day, New York City and New Haven, Connecticut

COVID-19 rules are still frequently changing

"I think diners should be more understanding, rather than patient. … Everything right now is constantly changing and evolving on the COVID-19 front with a lot of new rules/regulations. There are way too many other variables that are not in the control of the operator. Staff getting COVID-19, purveyors not delivering food/beverages etc." —Kerem Bozer, owner of Tacos Güey, New York City

"All of us have spent the past 18 months longing for a return to normal but it's becoming clear that we aren't out of the woods yet and nowhere is that more obvious than in restaurants. Shut downs, mask mandates, and social distancing are all burdens that we've had to shoulder for the last year and being the mask police for diners who are anxious to get back to normal has been exhausting. On top of that we've had to reopen and close our restaurants numerous times, and played musical chairs with occupancy limits all while trying to find staff. It hasn't helped that the city and state make things harder by shutting down alcohol delivery with 24 hour notice. None of this has been easy for anyone and a little bit of patience would go a long way.—Amanda Cohen, chef of Dirt Candy and chef/co-founder of Lekka Burger, New York City

"There's never been a more important time for diners to put themselves in the shoes of the restaurant operators and chefs of places they love and want to see survive. We opened Veranda during the pandemic and finding qualified, hard-working front-of-house and back-of-house staff has been extremely challenging. Consequently, many nights both the kitchen and the floor are understaffed and overworked. Everyone in the industry is trying their hardest to provide old-school hospitality but they are taxed to the max, so if you love a place now's the time to root for it and support it." —David Rabin, partner at Veranda, New York City

Everyone is more stressed

"In general, the majority of folks that got into hospitality did so because they genuinely enjoy making people happy. It's become increasingly harder to make people happy amidst COVID-19 because people are stressed and still in survival mode. I also believe that the general public don't realize how much the pandemic has impacted what it means to work in a restaurant and how much harder it is just on any given day. We will continue to adapt and strive to be better and more hospitable, I just hope all of our guests that come in will strive to be kind and patient." —Kevin O'Donnell, chef and owner of Giusto, Newport, Rhode Island

You never know what someone is going through or what someone has sacrificed to serve you.

"While we continue to adjust to rapidly-changing protocols and mandates, it's more important than ever for those dining with us to show understanding and empathy. Even under 'normal' circumstances the restaurant experience is a collaboration between guests and staff, and it's paramount as we approach the end of this challenging stretch. It's a demanding industry and burnout is prevalent even in the best of times, so given the added pressures we're all facing—like labor shortages leading to overworking—it's important to remember to treat each other with humanity. You never know what someone is going through or what someone has safriced to serve you so be kind and patient, and tip well even if the service isn't to your standards." —Mary Attea, chef of The Musket Room, New York City

"There's definitely been a high demand for reservations and with more people than ever before enjoying dining out, both staff and guests are learning how to maneuver in this new environment. Whether it's being patient with the pace of service or being timely so that we can accommodate every reservation, it's all a part of the new dining experience. This is also the perfect time for us to get even more connected with our guests and to receive direct feedback about what we're doing right and what could be improved." —Gabriel Woo, executive chef and partner of Bar Cecil, Palm Springs, California

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