Dining out? Here's why some North Carolina menu items are costing you more

More local restaurants are trying to rebound in the COVID-19 economy and are navigating how to hold onto staff who keep their customers happy.

At Koan, a Southeast Asian fusion restaurant in Cary, staff are earning higher wages than they did before the onset of the pandemic.

Sean Degnan, who also owns Soca in Raleigh's Village District, had to let go about 40 servers and line cooks at the start of the pandemic; when he reopened in June, he offered them $15 an hour plus tips, paid time off and sick leave.

To keep the doors open amid declining demand and rising COVID case numbers, Degnan added a 10 percent surcharge to customers' bills.

"We did add a 10 percent sustainability charge," said Degnan. "We didn't know what the future of the pandemic held, how long it was gonna last, when vaccines were gonna rollout. So that 10 percent charge was really to pay people to stay home if they felt in any way, bad."

Koan closed again in December and when it reopened in April, Degnan was able to scrap that surcharge; wages were lowered to $7.25 an hour, still more than the $2.13 an hour, plus tips, his team had earned before the pandemic.

Customers will still notice they're paying more for certain items on the menu.

"Beef prices have fluctuated, fish prices have fluctuated, gasoline prices now are fluctuating so that gets passed onto us from our purveyors," Degnan said.

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Still, Mother's Day was profitable for Degnan and a sign of what he hopes is to come.

"I saw a lot of people hugging their grandmothers and mothers for the first time this past weekend in over a year and it is emotional to witness," Degnan said. "I really can't put enough value on getting together as a community and celebrating over food and drink. It was missed. It was sorely missed."

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