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‘Optimistic that things will pick up’: Restaurant owners continue struggling through staffing crisis

Published: Aug. 15, 2021 at 10:57 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Midlands restaurant owners say they’re still waiting for job applications to roll in while some restaurants have been forced to temporarily shut down due to being short-staffed.

Back in June, several owners told WIS that the end of federal unemployment benefits may draw in more potential employees, but they now say that hasn’t been the case since the extra benefits expired.

Debey Hancock, Owner of Lil Duc Kombucha, says she hasn’t been able to host a grand opening for her business because she’s never had the chance to operate her new location with a full staff.

“There have been at least twice, maybe three times that said, you know, I’m sorry, but we don’t have any staff,” said Hancock.

Lizard’s Thicket owner Bobby Williams is in the same boat. He says his restaurant chain is struggling for workers so much that he’s been forced to temporarily shut down his Beltline Rd. location and reallocate that restaurant’s employees to his other locations.

Williams says the uptick in COVID-19 cases has also influenced his staffing as more employees have gotten sick in the past few weeks.

“We have one restaurant that had 5 employees out. So that’s if we have 50 employees, that’s a tenth of employees out at the same time, so that put a terrible strain on the restaurant,” said Williams.

He says the continuing staffing crisis and the rate of employee sickness seems worse recently.

“I feel like it’s worse right now than it was last year,” said Williams. “And so, we’ve all got to pull together and if we have to start wearing masks again, we’ve got to wear masks. But, we’ve got to get through this next month, for sure.”

Lauren Schlueter, Owner of Carolina Café, says she didn’t expect to still be staffing issues. She’s had her ‘Now Hiring’ sign posted above the front doors of the Café for the past five months. She’s received two applicants.

She says the staffing issue is putting a strain on her already overwhelmed team primarily made of college students.

“They are working a lot of hours and we’re all working 8, 9-hour shifts 7 days a week,” said Schlueter.

Hancock says at Lil Duck, a lot of the responsibility has fallen on her and her small team that has to act as the employees she’s looking to hire.

“Now I’m just kind of the jack of all trades,” said Hancock. “You know, I never know from one day to the next when I wake up where I’m going to be or what I’m going to be doing.”

She says being overwhelmed with other responsibilities takes away from the tasks she needs to do as the owner.

Desmon Davis, Manager at Chophouse of Chapin, says maybe the pandemic had more far-reaching effects on the hospitality industry than previously thought.

“People picked up different skillsets in the two months of things that they like to do and so, going back to this job where they didn’t like it – where they felt like they were making ends meet, where they feel like they don’t have to anymore,” said Davis.

Williams says to entice a new group of hospitality workers, the industry must do better as a whole at gauging what prospective employees want, whether that’s a higher base pay or shorter shifts.

Some Midlands restaurant owners say they’ve kept their incentive programs for new hires, while some have doubled theirs. Smaller businesses are holding out hope.

“I’m just – I’m just optimistic that things will pick up,” said Hancock.

Restaurant owners hope customers will continue to be patient as the industry struggles to find adequate staffing.COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) -

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