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Difficult decisions ahead for some restaurants as downturn in business returns

Posted at 6:38 PM, Sep 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-01 09:41:24-04

MILWAUKEE — A majority of restaurants across the country say business is heading in the wrong direction. The Wisconsin Restaurant Association says people need to find ways to support their local businesses if they want their favorite dining spots to stay open.

One Milwaukee restaurant, Don's TV Repair, has changed what it does and sells three times in the three years it has been open, just to survive.

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Don's Diner became Don's Grocery and Liquor in 2020 during the start of the pandemic.

“We spent one year of normalcy as Don’s Diner and Cocktails, then COVID-19 hit and everything changed from there. We pivoted immediately to Don’s Grocery and Liquor,” said Taylor Gillen, general manager of Don’s TV Repair. “Almost a year later, we pivoted slightly to Don’s TV Repair, which is a speakeasy.”

Gillen says even though Don’s is doing relatively well, the pandemic continues to throw them curve balls, like staffing shortages and supply chain issues.

"It's definitely different day to day, everyday brings a new struggle,” she says.

restaurant worker shortage

A survey by the National Restaurant Association says 76 percent of restaurants are doing worse now than they were three months ago. On social media, neighborhood pages are filled with posts from area businesses announcing closures or reduced hours. Some places can’t fill shifts. Others can’t justify staying open without an increase in customers. The Wisconsin Restaurant Association president Kristine Hillmer says all of this comes as no surprise.

"You're going to see some really difficult decisions I think short term. You're going to see continuation of the trend the restaurants, many restaurants, are not open, seven days a week. Many restaurants won't be open all dinner services that they used to, and many restaurants will pare down their menus based on what's available and the cost of their supplies,” said Hillmer​.

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Across the country, 95 percent of restaurant owners say they have been hit by supply chain shortages. Many also point to the increase in the cost of goods, meaning restaurants aren’t making as much money for selling the same item as they sold a year ago. Specifically with products like meat, bread and dairy, according to the Associated Press. Corn, grain and soybeans are at the highest levels since 2012.

The National Restaurant Association reports 90,000 restaurants are shut down because of the pandemic, and the Wisconsin Restaurant Association fears more could be coming.

"I am concerned that especially going into the leaner winter months and - on average, many restaurants, not all, of course - really survive on a successful summer and early fall. And those successful times and people are out and about to really help cover those leaner winter months,” said Hillmer​.

With a surge in the delta variant, more people are also choosing to carry out. The GM of Don’s says despite fewer people choosing to dine in, they are doing what they can to keep their doors open.

"We are always looking to move forward and do what we have to do to serve the community,” said Gillen​.

The Wisconsin Restaurant Association says if you want to help your local restaurant and you do not want to dine in, make sure you order from the restaurant directly, not a third-party website.

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