‘New St. Patrick’s Day': NJ Mexican eateries await Cinco de Mayo
Unable to mark the occasion in any significant way last year, Mexican restaurants across New Jersey are anticipating big business on Wednesday, May 5 — or Cinco de Mayo, a banner day for celebrating Mexican culture in the United States.
Jonathan Garsman, director of operations for Margaritas, a restaurant which has Jersey franchises in Metuchen and Toms River, said sales are usually up sixfold on Cinco de Mayo versus a normal weeknight, but he expects this year's turnout to be even bigger.
That's despite indoor dining restrictions which will not begin to be lifted in the Garden State until the coming weekend, and for the most part not until May 19.
Garsman said that adding Margaritas' outdoor seating options to the current 50% indoor capacity limit for restaurants means the chain is still operating at or close to full strength at its New Jersey locations.
"We're going to be on a wait, probably all day and night, in both restaurants," he said. "Everyone wants to experience Cinco de Mayo these days. It's kind of like the new St. Patrick's Day."
Probably the biggest challenge for restaurants right now, according to Garsman, is keeping an adequate number of workers on staff.
He said that Margaritas has been managing.
"Servers, front of the house, back of the house, everywhere, it is difficult to come by, so we're very grateful we have that," he said.
Still, to help them out, the restaurants have joined many others around the state in rolling out a mobile app-based, contactless menu system.
That allows customers to order and pay by phone, but keeps servers at the ready to answer any questions, like for allergy-related issues or concerns.
At first, Garsman said, the servers were skeptical, fearing the use of the app would cut into their tips. But so far, that hasn't been the case.
"It allows a server to take at least twice as many tables, and it allows them to give (customers) still more attention, because they're not doing a lot of the menial tasks," he said. "It's about increasing the experience, and allowing the guests to customize easier. You know, we're becoming a technology-driven culture, and this is another part of it."
Garsman expects this technology to persist even when capacity limits, distancing, and mask-wearing are in the rearview mirror.
He said it's especially useful for Mexican restaurants, which typically have a high percentage of customizable menu options.
Plus, he added, patrons can order refills on their margaritas — small "m" — even faster now.
Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.