Restaurants fear change in weather with restrictions in place

Langosta Lounge owner Marilyn Schlossbach says this is the worst summer season she’s experienced in the last three decades.

“We depend on doing at least two thirds of our business in the summer. Some of us, all our business is in the summer,” Schlossbach said.

She says business is down 65 to 70%. And, although indoor dining returned Labor Day weekend, opening at 25% capacity isn’t giving her the boost she needed.

“Nonexistent, honestly. I think a lot of operators had issues with staffing to begin with this year, between the stimulus and the not knowing what your business was going to be. We didn’t bring on much staff,” Schlossbach said.

During Labor Day weekend, the mother of two would normally have 75 staff members working. This year she had about 30. She says she didn’t want to hire people and then lay them off. The indoor bar had to stay closed because she didn’t have enough people working to maintain it. She also didn’t have the capital to fully stock up on alcohol.

“We did a few tables here and there inside but not enough to say, ‘Wow, it really helped our business.’ If it had rained this weekend, if we didn’t have inside, I don’t think we would have opened today or ever again. Losing that revenue of a holiday is horrible,” she said.

At Porta, which is also located in Asbury Park, a socially-distanced bar was a hit. But Dallas Hlatky, who oversees the business, says once outdoor dining becomes limited with the weather, “25% is definitely not going to cut it for business purposes.”

Gov. Phil Murphy said there were very few reported cases of knucklehead behavior during the holiday weekend, but warned, “We cannot let our guard down because this is a virus that spreads when we give it the opportunity to do so.”

Epidemiologist Stephanie Silvera believes it’s important for the rate of transmission to be below 1.0 for at least a couple of weeks before increasing the indoor dining capacity.

“Statewide, right now, it’s about 1.1 and it’s been trending upward ever so slightly over the past week,” Silvera said. “And what we’ve seen is this sort of pattern where numbers will dip down below 1.0 for maybe a week or so and then they bounce back up.”

As the cold weather approaches, Hlatky wants to see local municipalities giving permits for heaters and tents now so they can prepare. She also wants guidance from the governor to understand what metrics he’s waiting to hit in order to green light more people inside restaurants.

“Everything takes a while. I’d love to get everything squared away by October because that feels like the time when you start to get those really cold nights,” Hlatky said. “Do you want to buy all of these heaters if there’s a possibility indoor dining is going to increase, a lot of things to consider as a business.”

“I had a staff member go to rehab yesterday,” Schlossbach said “People are going to break from this, and I don’t think anybody realizes that a lot of it has to do with not knowing what tomorrow is going to be for you and your family.”

Schlossbach says her plan right now is to ask her landlord if she can shut down during the peak of the winter from November to February because it’ll be too expensive to keep the lights and heat on with what she’s made this season.