Restaurant Owner's Survival: Working 72-Hour Weeks

Half of small businesses say their rent has increased in the last 6 months
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 5, 2022 2:22 PM CDT
Small Business Survey: 33% Couldn't Pay May Rent in Full
Charleen Ferguson sits in her office in Wylie, Texas, Friday, July 1, 2022. Landlords were forgiving about rent during the first two years of the pandemic, but now many are asking for back due rent. Ferguson owns the building that houses the tech business she owns with her husband, Just Call the I.T....   (AP Photo/LM Otero)

The rent has come due for America’s small businesses and at a very inopportune time. Landlords were lenient about rent payments during the first two years of the pandemic. Now, many are asking for back rent, and some are raising the current rent as well. Meanwhile, most of the government aid programs that helped small businesses get through the pandemic have ended while inflation has sharply pushed up the cost of supplies, shipping, and labor.

Indeed, the AP reports 33% of all US small businesses could not pay their May rent in full and on time, according to a survey from Alignable, a small-business referral network. That's a 5-point rise from April. And 52% said rent has increased over the past six months. Even those who can pay rent now are worried about what's coming. To that end, the AP speaks with Ris Lacoste, who owns a namesake restaurant, Ris, in Washington, DC. She is staying afloat using aid she got from the Restaurant Relief Fund to pay her rent. But the money must be spent by March 2023. "What I have to do to stay alive after that, every single penny that I can save has to go into reserve," Lacoste said.

To cut corners she’s refinishing tables to cut down on linen costs, not printing color copies of menus, and working with 22 staffers instead of the 50 she once had. Before the pandemic, the 7,000-square-foot restaurant was often full, but it isn’t "back to full occupancy at all," Ris said. At the same time, inflation is compounding the cost of doing business. "Payroll is up, labor is up, the cost of goods is up, utilities are going up," Lacoste said. "I’m wearing 20 hats instead of 10, and working six days a week, 12 hours a day." But rent isn’t something she can control, and that adds to the stress. "You’re working for the landlord, how long do you want to do that, how long will you survive?" she said. "It’s not sustainable."

(More US economy stories.)

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