Photo by Lexie Barnhorn via Unsplash

California is set to fully re-open its economy come June 15, as announced by the Office of the Governor of California, but the restaurant industry is struggling to fill its job openings. 

“We are still at less than 100% capacity,” Sal Marino, co-owner of Marino Ristorante in Los Angeles, told Scriberr News. “Those currently working are working harder, sometimes straining resources and morale.”

Restaurants have been unable to operate at full capacity for over a year now, and this has had detrimental effects on the industry. Although they adhered to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, in some cases offering take-out, delivery and outdoor dining options were just not sustainable enough to prevent bankruptcy.

Following a plethora of COVID-19 restrictions, restaurants across the country, especially small and family-owned businesses, have had no choice but to shut their doors for good. 

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Now, with over 50% of state citizens fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data, the restaurants still left standing are trying to prepare to welcome customers back for indoor dining at full capacity. This is proving difficult for restaurateurs like Marino.

Marino has been operating during the pandemic while understaffed, and it appears this will continue even after the economy is fully re-opened. Although he and his brother have done their best to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions by developing a patio for outdoor dining and filling orders to-go, they are finding that attracting workers is proving to be a difficult task.

Despite the lifting of restrictions, food service remains one of the riskiest jobs. Marino says they have managed to maintain their kitchen staff numbers, but front of house staff like servers and hosts are much more difficult to come by. 

“Many people transitioned out of the restaurant industry which in some cases lasted one year,” Marino said, adding they’ve moved on and found other jobs.

“Let’s face it: our business is tough on the family and social aspect of living. You work every weekend, holiday, evenings,” he said. 

A lack of childcare for parents who remained at home to care for their children was also an obstacle. 

In addition to this, a lot of restaurant owners can’t afford to compete with stimulus checks and unemployment benefits their potential workforce is receiving at home. 

California’s Employment Development Department (EDD) recently extended federal assistance programs until Sept. 4. Programs like the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) will continue to provide benefits to unemployed Californians for an additional 29 weeks.

The EDD has also increased the value of unemployment benefits by $300 per week. This is in addition to the stimulus check payments of up to $1,400. 

Restaurateurs are finding that few are willing to apply to minimum wage jobs like busboy positions anymore. Of the few applications they are receiving, applicants are lacking the skills and experience required of the job. Some members of the working class who previously filled positions in the restaurant industry have taken the time during quarantine to retrain for jobs in other sectors.

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The California Restaurant Association (CRA) has been providing information and resources to its members to help alleviate the impact the pandemic had on them. Despite these measures, it seems the struggle is only just beginning.

Following the loss of revenue during lockdown, many restaurants may continue to depend on take-out, delivery and outdoor dining options in addition to the awaited return to indoor dining. 

“We haven’t been able to operate fully in over a year, so anyone still hanging on is barely hanging on. Every piece of possible revenue is going to be critical,” said CRA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and Public Policy, Matt Sutton.

The permanent incorporation of these services to the restaurant experience just exacerbates the issue of understaffing, and continues to drag out the time needed for the industry to recover.

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