Madison Stolarski

The rally behind small businesses has stopped in the post-COVID-19 world. Small businesses are struggling more than ever due to the increasing impatience of their customers.

On March 16, 2020, New York state announced a state of emergency lockdown due to COVID-19 — little did we know where this would take us and how it would affect our world for the following years. At the start, the main concern was a loss of business, as many people were restricted from, or feared, leaving their homes. Despite the efforts to order takeout from local restaurants or shop online at small businesses, there was no way to avoid a massive hit. Not only did businesses suffer financially, but many also lost something that so many small businesses thrive off of — familiarity and bonds between workers and customers that you wouldn’t necessarily find at a massive chain business where hundreds of customers are seen each day.

In a post-COVID-19 world, customers should be more understanding of the trauma and uncertainty many small businesses are still experiencing, especially in service industries like restaurants, where the sole purpose is to serve and create an enjoyable experience for customers.

A Rockland County, New York, small business owner, Daniel DeMartino, experiences the demands of customers and big corporations every day. Witnessing firsthand the change in customer demeanor from during COVID-19 to now.

“During [COVID-19], 95 percent of our customers were more than generous, more than understanding for a small business like ourselves,” he says, adding that “big companies are taking advantage of people like us, the middle and lower classes. People feel like they are being beaten up by these major companies, then they come to you, a little mom-and-pop shop, and they feel we have to be scared of them because they’re a customer, so they pick on the little guy because they can’t be in control anywhere else.”

Over the past year, many businesses have started to see their loyal customers return, even being introduced to new faces, but unfortunately, the return of customers meant an unexpected new disrespect for workers. According to psychologists, the long-awaited return to normalcy has left people confused, anxious and resentful. The reentry into a society that formerly let many people down during COVID-19 has proven to be difficult for many people disrupting their lives leading to a loss of manners. Restaurants are reporting an increase in rude customers, lawyers are reporting an increase in rude clients and flight attendants have gone so far as to report incidents of pure mayhem. Where did patience and understanding get lost during the COVID-19 years?

Specifically looking at restaurants that rely heavily on customer interactions and creating a positive environment for their customers, the impact of COVID-19 has continued to stretch and tear down the will of many restaurant owners. I’m sure many have become familiar with the help wanted signs posted outside of what felt like every single restaurant and small business as they started to open back up, even now. Many workers did not return to their jobs once restaurants opened back up. Many employees relied on the COVID-19 unemployment packages and stimulus checks, so much so that the return to work wasn’t worth it, especially considering the stress, health risks and uncertainty of possibly being out of work again. Now restaurants are suffering from not being fully staffed, leaving customers to wait a couple minutes longer for a server to take their order or for their food to be prepared. But in a world where we were recently so alone and had lost so much, waiting a few extra minutes in a restaurant surrounded by people is not the end of the world, even if people made it out to be.

Combined with staffing issues, supply chain demands have increased over the past few years, resulting in restaurants suffering from a massive influx in inventory spending and not being able to get a hold of the right products. During COVID-19, agricultural production and the meatpacking industries also suffered because of the dangers and concerns of spreading infection. Supply lines are held up, ultimately creating pockets of scarcity and added costs that are passed on to consumers.

According to Forbes Magazine, “a recent National Restaurant Association survey revealed that 95 percent of restaurants in the U.S. had experienced considerable supply delays or shortages in recent months, which is concerning. Remember that equipment, such as ovens, has become almost impossible to secure, and some crucial pieces take six months to come in.”

It’s unfair that restaurant owners and employees have to suffer when the issue is out of their control. Many restaurants are forced to consider other options, most of which are more expensive, resulting in higher menu prices and, unfortunately, unhappy customers.

Customers expect to return to their favorite restaurants and expect everything to be the same as it was prior to 2020, but obviously that is not the case. Every single person has come out of COVID-19 a different person, having all experienced a collective trauma. So much of our daily routines have changed that even our vocabulary has been affected. Terms like social distancing and masking have become incredibly normal to us. Why, then, are restaurants being held to a standard to return to normalcy while simultaneously suffering more than any other businesses have?

Customers need to be more understanding and help small businesses return to the friendly atmosphere people cherished so much.

Madison Stolarski is a senior majoring in English.