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Local restaurants grapple with national worker shortage & supply issues

Published: Oct. 25, 2021 at 8:30 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 25, 2021 at 8:31 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) -Some local restaurants are cutting back hours, and others are even temporarily closing their doors. This is due to an ongoing nationwide restaurant worker shortage.

According to the South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association, many of these vacancies have gone unfilled since establishments cut staffing last year during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

Data published earlier this month from the National Restaurant Association showed that 78 percent of restaurant operators said they don’t have enough staff, and nearly 70 percent had reduced operating hours.

Mark Virtucio, General Manager of Home Team BBQ in Five Points, said his restaurant is currently looking to hire about six workers. They average six to eight people per shift but are seeking to add one or two people for each workday.

Virtucio said to take pressure off his staff, they have removed some tables from the restaurant rotation.

“We do have shortages on staff,” he said. “I mean we’re moving some tables, just trying to alleviate any pressures off of our staff. They’re already going through enough having to wear masks and dealing with covid every day. Just looking out to keep them sane as well. So looking to staff up as much as we can.”

When asked why he made the move, Virtucio said, “We not only look out for our guests, we’re looking out for the staff.”

He said taking some tables out is a small price to pay to ensure that each guest receives the service restaurant management expects.

Andy’s Deli is staffing up, too. After having four full-timers for some time, they hired two workers in the last month to meet demand.

“The business is here and we needed more people to make the customers happy and speed everything up,” Andy Salon of Andy’s Deli said.

Virtucio said Home Team is lucky they’ve received many applications in recent weeks, but some businesses are harder hit. One Columbia Starbucks, for example, has temporarily stopped operations.

A number of factors contribute to this, according to Susan Cohen, president, and CEO of the South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association.

“Lots of people left the industry during COVID because they were at home, had time to do some online courses, found online jobs that gave them ways to stay at home, take care of kids, but also it was a safety factor for a lot of them,” she said. “We’ve heard that loud and clear.”

Disrespect from customers and supply chain issues are other elements, she said.

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“They kind of roll in together. The supply chain has made it difficult for some restaurants, for example, to get specialty items. People unfortunately are short-tempered these days. They take it out on the servers. They’re unhappy, maybe their service is slow because of lack of servers so it kind of rolled into people, unfortunately, saying ‘Hey, I might go find a better job than this.’”

Home Team BBQ has seen the availability of things like paper products become scarce due to ongoing supply chain bottlenecks.

“I mean again that just goes from every level they’re short-staffed – not just short-staffed, it’s hard to keep that staff at the same work pace when you have all of these other, I mean not just wearing masks, but making sure that people are staying safe,” Virtucio said. “If somebody is sick, they stay home. And that is in every part of this business from not just the restaurant, but supply chains, the people that are making the product, the people that are shipping and receiving.”

Supplies, such as 20-ounce cups, have been difficult for Andy’s to locate as well. The price of these cups has nearly doubled, too; Shlon said Andy’s went from paying $26 per case of cups to $48 now.

In addition to scarcity and rising costs of supplies, Cohen said many restaurants are paying higher prices for food. For example, beef prices are up nearly 60 percent. As a result, some places have needed to make incremental price increases to certain menu items.

To address the worker shortage, the South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association is posting job listings on its website from over 2,200 member businesses, and increasing recruitment through the ProStart initiative. This aims to introduce students as young as high school to careers in the culinary and hospitality industries.

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