Jersey Shore Diners and COVID-19: The Struggle to Keep a Tradition Going
To say COVID-19 has affected the restaurant industry would be an understatement. As officials attempt to understand how to mitigate the virus, restaurant owners have been doing everything they can to keep their doors open. First through gift cards and takeout, then through outdoor dining, and now indoor dining (at 25% capacity). Jersey Shore Diners are no exception and in some cases, they’ve had to totally reinvent themselves.
Restrictions, set backs, and countless changes in business models later, restaurant owners are holding on, many by threads and some say diners have been hit extra hard. Their best attributes – always being open, menus with every item imaginable, and a patron population that loves to bring their grandkids – have become their biggest weaknesses.
“Diners are known to be ‘recession proof,” said Mario Magriplis, Owner of Blue Swan Diner in Oakhurst. “We’ve always been a place where you can get a great meal for a value, however this is an environment that we’ve never encountered before.”
A model based solely on indoor dining, like other restaurants, diners had to switch their business model numerous times, first to takeout, then to outdoor dining, and now back to indoor dining at a very limited capacity.
Faced with the reality of closing their doors, Magriplis, like other business owners are attempting to follow guidelines, work with government officials, keep their staff employed, provide a great eating experience, while staying above water. In this climate, that has been a difficult challenge.
“Luckily, we were quick to adapt to takeout and delivery, family meals, grocery services – services that are no where near sustainable for our larger footprint,” said Magriplis. “We depend on patrons filling our chairs. The complexities of a larger establishment play into the outdoor dining scene too. Our government officials, who we continue to work with, have dropped bombs on us overnight and it’s not that simple. Basically it’s building our entire business from scratch every single time.”
Keeping Jersey Shore Diners Open
Magriplis points out that many diners, especially those in New York state, have already seen a succession problem, coupled with high leases and rent, diners, for younger owners, just don’t make sense.
As for New Jersey, diners are a big part of our history and in order to keep it alive, they need to transform to smaller menus, streamlined operations, integrating technology (finding better ways to establish a direct communication with customers online instead of through 3rd parties that take a cut), and create a small business lobby to fight against large restaurant groups.
As patrons, there are many things that we can do to help keep diner doors open:
- Be patient with ownership and staff as they’re striving to offer the best experience possible for you and other patrons.
- Know what you want when you’re ordering.
- Order directly with the restaurant, not through third parties.
- Everything helps, whether it’s a meal, merchandise or gift cards.
For Magriplis, whose family has owned Blue Swan Diner for 45 years, along with other owners, knowing that customers are thinking about them makes the struggle worthwhile.
“We are all struggling, from businesses to people and we need to be a little more compassionate and supportive of each other so we can get through this together,” said Magriplis.
Support some of our favorite local diners and let us know yours so we can add them to this list by emailing us at email@example.com:
Blue Swan Diner
2116 NJ-35, Oakhurst, NJ
Princess Maria Diner
2044 NJ-35, Wall Twp., NJ
All Seasons Diner
176 Wyckoff Road, Eatontown, NJ
All Seasons Diner II
4135 U.S. 9, Freehold Twp., NJ
Toast City Diner
45 Monmouth St, Red Bank, NJ 07701
1160 NJ-35, Shrewsbury, NJ 07702
5016 Route 33-34, Wall, NJ
New Monmouth Diner
1887 Route 35, Middletown, NJ