'Labor pandemic' impacting restaurant operations

restaurant worker shortage
Posted at 5:02 PM, Jun 01, 2021

BALTIMORE — As things are opening back up and people are returning to work, some businesses struggle to hire because of a labor shortage.

"The new pandemic is a labor shortage," said Susan Jones, executive director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association.

"The hospitality industry has suffered a horrible blow with this COVID crisis," said Mark Hemmis, owner of Phoenix Upper Main in Ellicott City.

Restaurant owners from Ocean City to Baltimore say the labor pool that existed before the pandemic is no longer there, forcing them to adapt operations.

"So you might see some restaurants who typically are open lunch and dinner, they may only be open for dinner shifts, or they may be typically open 7 days a week, and now they are only open 5 days a week," said Jones.

Hemmis is prioritizing the outdoor seating they added during the pandemic, which has become very popular.

"We probably will not go to full capacity inside because we just don’t have the staff or the resources within our kitchen to do it,"said Hemmis.

And Riverside Taphouse in Federal Hill has invested more in staff to stay competitive. Despite opening during the pandemic, that has helped them keep staff so they are only looking to fill one or two more positions.

"The pay scale in the neighborhood has gone up and we just have to adapt to it," said chef Bobby Bassett.

They say the shortage is caused by a large matrix of pandemic related factors. It’s not just unemployment benefits. It’s a difficult housing situation in Ocean City because landlords moved seasonal rentals to daily rentals last summer.

"The embassies in foreign countries are still not fully operational so we don’t have the J1 seasonal workers that we usually have," said Jones.

People found new jobs during the shut downs.

"Some people aren’t ready to come back to work yet because of not having the vaccine and things like that," said Bassett.

They shared some tips for anyone traveling or going out: plan ahead, make reservations and check the hours of operation for the places you want to go.

"They [visitors] really have to pack their patience when they travel and they have to remember to be kind and to expect maybe a longer wait time or not the service they might be accustomed to in other scenarios," said Jones.

"Every restaurant is different. Just go in, be patient and just realize it’s been a long year, year and a half now," said Bassett.

It’s not just restaurants dealing with this. According to the National Federation of Independent Business Research Center, so are the construction, manufacturing, and transportation industries. In April, a record 44% of small businesses had job openings they couldn’t fill.