It’s no secret that the restaurant industry has been rocked in recent years. And while we all desperately try to put the pandemic in the rearview, “we’re still dead in the middle of it,” says Nofo owner Jean Martin. Hence the sometimes slow or seemingly subpar service—and the empty tables that come with a wait (insider tip: tables can’t be seated if a restaurant is short-staffed, or if a server would be double-sat). Add to that supply chain issues—NTM the residual loss of forced closures—and, well, you’d pretty much want to be anybody but a restaurant owner. While these restaurateurs have endless empathy for their customers, they are also understandably beyond frustrated. To cover the gap, they and their staff members are working ungodly hours to feed and entertain us—and, yet, the public remains peeved. Now, add in soaring prices, and “customers feel like they are getting less for more—less service and less food on the plate for more money,” says Martin. “And we want to do everything we can to cater to the customer.” So, as lovers of the hospitality industry (NTM of hardworking people and truth), we wanted to dedicate space in our Best Restaurants Issue to some of our area’s top hospitality vets in the hopes diners will allow time and grace to these industry vets as they get back on their feet.
Why is staffing so hard?
“The biggest thing is lack of employees. It hurts everything about our business. Guests expect a certain level of service, but there simply are not enough servers working. People need to start understanding that things are not back to normal, and they will most likely never get back to where they once were. Not only are we having difficulties getting qualified people to work, but everything has gone up in price since COVID. We have specials on a regular basis to help ease the pinch on everyone’s wallets. … We are doing our part to help as much as possible, but we still have to feed our families, so we have to charge accordingly.”
–Marilyn Peraza, co-owner, 13 Tacos & Taps
“No one wants to work since COVID. Those who say they do are looking for ridiculous pay without earning it. People know businesses are hurting right now—not just restaurants—and they come in and do whatever they want because they know you need them. Many were handed so much money from the government for doing nothing and now expect it from employers. I don’t think it has to do with sudden closures because it wasn’t just restaurants—many businesses closed suddenly. It’s about getting something for nothing. Our servers make very good money—$20 to $30/hour in tips, plus a small hourly wage—but that doesn’t seem to be enough.”
–Anonymous restaurant owner
“To be honest, I have no idea where all the people are. I know a good amount switched professions, but that is definitely not all. I think it is a combination of a lot of things: laziness, switching professions, taking ‘under-the-table’ jobs and collecting unemployment, tired of the industry, etc.”
–Anonymous restaurant owner
“Not enough people are looking for jobs in this industry. Pay is at an all-time high, up 30 to 40% in some positions, but openings remain. The industry has overworked and underpaid a good portion of their staff for years and that, combined with so many other opportunities for work that may be less stressful both physically and mentally, are the main source of the labor problem. We are lucky enough to have a more understanding customer base than some when it comes to limiting our hours of operation. We are trying to take care of our customers, and—just as importantly—our loyal employees who have stuck with us through these difficult times.”
–Chef Dan Gray, Nofo Cafe
“Staffing is beyond ridiculous. I have never in any city and any restaurant had such issues with staffing. It is crazy—and it isn’t just restaurants. Almost all businesses are dealing with the same thing. It’s like Thanos snapped a finger or something.”
–Michael Lee, chef/owner, M Restaurants
“For one thing, we are still feeling the ripple effects of COVID. In a span of a few days time, our entire industry was shut down. Unfortunately, while many other industries have pivoted, there’s no ability to work remotely when you’re running the floor of a food & beverage establishment. During the pandemic, many people figured out other ways they could make a living or other things they were passionate about and simply have not returned to hospitality.”
–Sara Abernethy, co-owner, Wye Hill