ATLANTA — As hungry Americans eager for a meal cooked by someone else are flocking back to local restaurants, many are struggling to find enough employees to meet pent up demand.
The pandemic has flipped the restaurant industry upside down -- restricting the number of customers who could enter -- and the loss of business was enough to force many to close.
Now that COVID restrictions are loosening, there are restaurants that can’t fully open due to staffing shortages. In Georgia, the shortage is about 15%.
Roughly 300,000 restaurant workers in Georgia lost their jobs during the pandemic. Many are still collecting unemployment checks.
“That seems to be the group that’s most significantly affecting their labor force now,” says Karen Bremer of the Georgia Restaurant Association.
Traditionally, more than half of all restaurant workers are women. 71% of all servers are female.
When schools and daycare centers closed, many of those workers headed home to care for children and haven’t returned.
Bremer says other employees both male and female were scared away from the restaurant business.
“It did frighten some workers who said, oh my gosh, look how quickly they closed and how quickly they were affected by this,” says Bremer.
Some businesses are offering huge incentives to lure employees.
“There are restaurants down on the coast offering as much as a $3,000 signing bonus for coming to work in April and sticking through until October,” says Bremer.
Still, many restaurants are still struggling. The hope is that the situation will change when job seeking students get out of school for the summer.