Restaurants have their summer menus printed, supplies ordered and lights on, ready for diners to return. There is one key ingredient missing, however.
Many restaurateurs face job shortages. They sent the message to their servers that it’s time to get back to work.
They find that former employees are not returning to work. Local restaurants say they are hiring but no one is applying.
“It’s a disaster,” said Helmar Wolf, a member of the Connecticut Restaurant Association and CEO of the Mill Restaurant Group, whose restaurants include Mill on the River in South Windsor and Market Grille in Manchester.
“We run ads on Indeed all the time,” Wolf said. “I can’t find anyone. It doesn’t matter how much we pay.
With the number of restaurants set to increase with the summer season and the number of COVID-19 falling, restaurants are realizing that they could very well be understaffed during the busiest time of year.
“We have always done our best in all conditions to provide customers with the best experience and service,” said Leland Clark, general manager of Union Street Tavern in Windsor.
He said the tavern has had a limited menu since the start of the pandemic and will not have a full menu until it has the staff to support it.
Wolf said he had to close Market Grille on Remembrance Day because there weren’t enough people to cover the shifts.
“This is the first time that we are closing Memorial Day,” he said. “It’s harder to find a dishwasher than a line cook. We can’t find anyone. It doesn’t matter if we offer more money. It’s a snowball effect. Even the sous chefs, if you try to pay them well, there’s no one there.
Restaurateurs have various theories as to why hiring is so difficult, but one opinion has always been popular.
“We give them the stimulus,” said Mark Conley, owner of Cotton Hollow Kitchen in Glastonbury. “They make decent money without working, nobody wants to come back or nobody wants to go out and find a job.”
“They just don’t want to come back with additional support from the federal government,” said Philip Barnett, co-owner of the Hartford Restaurant Group, which operates Wood-n-Tap.
Barnett said some people won’t be coming back at all.
“When things got tough a year or more ago, people decided to quit the industry,” he said.
Erika Wenzel from Windham, a former waitress at the Thread City Diner in the Willimantic part of Windham, is one such person. When she was fired due to the pandemic, she decided not to return to the restaurant industry when things picked up.
Instead, she went to work for herself.
“Unemployment has nothing to do with it,” she said. “I used to earn between $ 700 and $ 900 per week. “
Wenzel said that when she applied for COVID-19 unemployment assistance, her employer did not record her tips as part of her weekly income, so she only received $ 150 per week.
Also, she said, until a month ago she would have waited only about half of what she would normally serve, and working in a tip-based industry would have drastically reduced her income. .
“I had last year to figure things out,” she said. “I moved on. I opened my own businesses. I did a lot of research and had a lot of free time, I don’t need it.
In the 15 months since the start of the pandemic, Wenzel, who is a certified medical assistant, said she had started her own billing and accounting business and was in the process of starting a business of behavioral health.
Wenzel said one of the reasons people won’t come back is the very stressful working environment in restaurants.
“They don’t want to go back because it’s not a good industry to work in,” she said. “It’s stressful. We yell at you a lot.
“I’m sure part of it is unemployment, but it’s the people who are moving,” she said.
Wolf said he understands why some people don’t come back. He said a former employee told him she couldn’t come back because she had children at home who were being remotely schooled. She is in a better position financially to raise money with COVID-19 assistance than to have a job and pay for child care.
For those who have no good reason not to work, however, restaurateurs say it’s time for the government to end their relief allowances.
“The state of Connecticut needs to take a close look at what comes from the federal government,” Barnett said. “I think he needs to be more aggressive. If jobs are available and people don’t come back to work, when do they stop helping? They need to look at the data available. What do we have to do? There are tons of jobs available.
“I think they should have been deleted last year,” Conley said. “I think the $ 600 stimulus package hurt us and should have stopped sooner. I think it made people lazy. There should have been some forethought about what was going on. In my opinion, this should stop completely and force people to get back to work.
“The last time I heard from the Connecticut Restaurant Association, there were 16,000 positions open for restaurants,” Wolf said. “They don’t go because they are paid to stay at home.
“It’s a mix of factors,” Clark said. “Most people say people hang on to unemployment. This is partly true. I know a number of people who have chosen to be unemployed rather than work.
“I don’t want to sound unfriendly,” he said. “There are valid reasons to be unemployed. There is still a need for it. I’m not saying you have to erase it completely.
Clark added, however, that choosing to remain unemployed is not the right choice, as restaurant owners may be willing to pay more than usual wages and salaries in order to fill vacant positions.
“I recommend most of them to take a job now rather than later,” he said. “People are being hired at higher rates because the demand is so high. “
Wolf said his staff currently tip enough for an average of around $ 35 to $ 40 an hour.
The need for manpower has become so great that some high-end restaurants that require their employees to already have restaurant experience are willing to hire and train newbies.
“We’re looking for people who have never worked a day in their life in a restaurant,” Conley said. “If you didn’t have two to three years of similar experience at a restaurant like ours, you wouldn’t even be considered. We don’t have that anymore.
“We have increased our base rate of pay for our kitchen positions,” said Clark. “We are paying above the industry average and we see ourselves paying for it for the foreseeable future. “