Restaurants say they're having trouble hiring; employees found other jobs during pandemic

As more businesses work to regain profits lost in the pandemic, one industry that struggled to survive is facing a new challenge.

Many restaurants are having trouble hiring.

It’s an issue happening both nationwide and in the Bay Area.

Restaurants have been champing at the bit to get back to business, and plenty are now operating at 50% capacity.

But a key ingredient to a successful comeback is having enough employees, and for many, that’s a problem.

Restaurants are not only working to fill tables, they’re working to fill positions.

The pandemic sliced jobs in the industry, and now many restaurants are dealing with a lack of employees.

"Just because of the things happening with the pandemic, a lot of people when we had to shut down and be closed for a whole year, decided to go in different industries altogether," said Ramiro Caravez, general manager and partner of Scott’s Seafood in Oakland.

"Left the state, right, like leaving the Bay Area and/or decided that they didn’t want to work in the restaurant industry anymore. And I’ve heard that over and over again," said Laurie Thomas, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association.

Industry insiders say beefed-up and extended unemployment checks are giving some laid-off workers extra time to marinate on their menu of options.

The executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association also owns two small San Francisco restaurants -- Rose’s Cafe and Terzo.

She says recent help wanted ads only got a small fraction of interest, and she’s boosted wages to give existing workers incentive to stay.

"We made wage adjustments this past Monday proactively because I don’t want to lose anybody," said Thomas.

The Wall Street Journal reports, in addition to raising wages, other incentives being served up by popular nationwide chains include things like signing bonuses, paid family leave, and free college tuition.

Bucking the trend locally, Scott’s Seafood in Oakland, says it had little problem getting employees back.

The general manager says it’s likely because the business remained in contact with workers, and helped some pay bills.

"We stuck together through these difficult times. We helped them with different needs that they had, and when I called them to come back to work, everyone was here," said Caravez.

"The owner supports us a lot," said Chef Gregorio Lopez.

In the near term, industry experts say many restaurants may need to run leaner and cross-train workers to do various jobs.

As for customers, you might need to exercise patience, and expect to help pay the check for some of the newly added incentives.

"You might see an empty table and say, ‘why can’t I sit there?’ and it might be because we don’t have a waiter to serve that table," said Thomas. " We might ask you to wait a little bit longer.  You will certainly see some price increases I would imagine." 

Whether running leaner and cross-training will be permanent or temporary is unknown.

As for the hiring issue, Thomas says when unemployment benefits begin to run out in a few months, you’ll likely see at least some of those workers return to the industry.