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Restaurants struggle to recruit enough staff to reopen

Kristin Schwab Mar 25, 2021
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Yes, restaurants are reopening, but hiring presents a new hurdle. Drew Angerer/Getty Images
COVID-19

Restaurants struggle to recruit enough staff to reopen

Kristin Schwab Mar 25, 2021
Heard on:
Yes, restaurants are reopening, but hiring presents a new hurdle. Drew Angerer/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Looking for a restaurant job in Chicago? Mario Ponce’s been hiring. 

“So we went from two cooks and a manager to three cooks, a dishwasher, managers, supervisors, bartenders, at least four servers, like, overnight,” said Ponce, who owns Takito, a trio of Latin American restaurants.

Ponce called his old staff members to come back, but found that many of them had left the industry or left Chicago. For the first time ever he’s using a hiring consultant.

Hiring is picking up across the country again: Unemployment claims fell to the lowest point during the pandemic last week, to 657,000.

More people are getting vaccinated and restrictions on businesses are being lifted. But that doesn’t mean everything’s suddenly sunny for business owners. After a full year of shutdowns, restrictions and outdoor dining, hiring is the new hurdle.

“So we signed a client yesterday. They need 100 managers. I mean that’s how bad it is right now,” said hospitality recruiter Patrice Rice, who works with national brands like Applebee’s and Olive Garden.

Rice’s phone rings every time a state eases restrictions. Because even though business owners knew this moment was coming, they couldn’t really prepare for it.

“Some of these companies kinda kept their managers warm,” she said. “But as the dates got pushed back, pushed back, pushed back, people could not continue to wait.”

Turnover is normal in hospitality, but business owners say this hiring season is different. The applicant pool has changed.

“I’ve gotten sophomores or juniors in high school almost exclusively,” said Chad Wagaman, who owns Chesapeake Grille & Deli in Maryland.

He’s used to hiring inexperienced workers, but not all at once. “It certainly slows down the kitchen a little bit,” he said.

Thankfully, Wagaman’s customers have been pretty patient. They’re probably just happy to eat his crab cakes in person again.

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