Pandemic-ravaged restaurants face hiring challenge as COVID restriction easing sparks business boom – NBC 7 San Diego

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Service sector jobs are in demand again after more than a year of repeated shutdowns, supply chain disruptions and reinvention of business models by restaurateurs across the United States.

Warmer weather, higher vaccination rates and the easing of COVID-19 restrictions are drawing more people to restaurants nationwide, but owners are facing a new problem: staff shortages in states like California is making it difficult to meet soaring demand.

Brenda Leek has owned Curbside Restaurant in La Mesa since 2019 and, after four closures last year, has seen an increase in foot traffic since its most recent opening on February 17.

According to the National Restaurant Association, restaurant sales in March jumped more than 13% to $ 62 billion, the largest single-month increase in the past 12 months.

Leek told NBC 7 that strengthening business was welcome, but said she would be able to earn a lot more if she could hire enough people for the restaurant to handle as it did before the pandemic, now that the easing of restrictions allows it to do so.

“We have had limited hours because there is not enough staff,” said Leek. “I would love to be open seven days a week, but my staff is very small and I can’t work them that many hours. It’s just not fair… I need three people in the kitchen, two hostesses, two bartenders and two waiters.

Leek said the past year has been exhausting.

“I don’t know a lot of owners who don’t roll up their sleeves and get dirty themselves – I know I am,” she said.

Leek told NBC 7 she was at a disadvantage – competing with government stimulus and unemployment checks in the race to staff.

“When I run the rental ad, very few people respond. The few who respond say they will come for an interview and very few arrive. I don’t have anyone new to their first shift yet. So we’re excited… and they’re not coming, ”she said. “So you’re open, but there’s nobody to hire and our clients don’t understand that – they have expectations… they get upset because I tell them there’s a wait and they leave, get angry. and give me a bad Yelp review… It makes me nervous because each day we don’t know how many people are going to come in.

She said the problem is so serious that she has asked other businesses to go through the back door of the restaurant to recruit the kitchen staff she has.

Leek was able to save her business with savings and EPI loans, but said if unemployment checks continued to be paid at the current amount, she would not be able to compete.

“I don’t mean to sound upset, but as wonderful as it is to get help – we all really need this help – we have to get people out of unemployment first,” she said. “To keep things open, we need staff … the trickle-down effect that this unemployment has on everyone, everywhere is a lot, you can’t keep giving people money. so they stay home when you open the states. “

Miro Copic, professor of marketing at San Diego State University, said government aid from NBC 7 was not the only thing Leek was competing against. He said that while the extra money plays a role in why people may delay re-entering the restaurant industry, other factors are to blame as well.

“A lot of people in more expensive cities like San Diego left San Diego, a lot of people found other jobs in other industries that were more stable and predictable, maybe they could go to school,” they could do other things. change career direction, ”he said. “Yes, there are still people who perceive more benefits than they got in their job, but for the most part, there are still people looking for work, the unemployment rate at San Diego is still north of 6%. “

Copic said the patience of restaurateurs during this difficult time will pay off.

“Between restaurants and hotels and places of entertainment… there are a lot of jobs opening up simultaneously, and it will just take a few months for people to kind of leave the sidelines,” he said. . “The state will reopen… on June 15… so restaurateurs will have a little time to prepare and recruit new staff… they will be frustrated over the next few months because they may not have the necessary manpower. need, but by the end of the summer, they should somehow be staffed to meet future demand. “

But Leek feels that relief can’t come soon enough.

“I’ve lost pretty much everything, so if Curbside doesn’t succeed, I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said.

Leek told NBC 7 that she plans to apply for the Biden administration’s new $ 28.6 billion restaurant revitalization fund, run by the Small Business Administration and licensed as part of the coronavirus relief program. $ 1.9 trillion signed by President Biden last month.

The Biden administration has said that during the first 21 days of the program, businesses owned and operated by women, veterans and economically disadvantaged people will be given priority.

After that, grants will be awarded on a first come, first served basis.

Restaurants and chains can apply for funds of up to $ 10 million per business and up to $ 5 million per location; the list of eligible expenses has been expanded to include employee benefits, paid sick leave, payroll, mortgage, rent and utilities, maintenance, construction of outdoor seating, PPE and cleaners; food and drink supplies, operational expenses and principal repayment of commercial debt.

Business owners who apply for the program this week could expect to receive their grant in 14 days. Since the funds are grants, they will not need to be repaid.



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