Local restaurants struggling to hire employees as business increases
BATON ROUGE - With unemployment at its lowest level since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and vaccinations buoying diners' confidence that it is becoming safer to go out, restaurants are seeing a welcome surge in visitors.
"From Valentine's Day to now it's really been record business,” said Brad Zito, owner of Drusilla Seafood.
Stephen Hightower, managing partner at City Group Hospitality, said it great to see customers coming back.
"Business is great," he said. "We are fortunate to feel what it feels like to be normal again, I think everybody has that sense they want to get out, they want to get back in the community.”
But many restaurants are having trouble keeping enough staff to serve the crowds.
"Our table shortages now aren't necessarily because of the spacing, the table shortage now is because we can't find the labor force to come back to work,” Hightower said.
Hightower said every restaurant his company runs is short-handed..
"Right now we have nine operating restaurants," he said. "We could hire at least 10 people at all of our locations.”
At Drusilla Seafood, Zito said he's trying new tactics to recruit employees.
"We've even gone so far as to offer a $100 bonus to sign on to work as a server with us. We've never done anything like that,” he said.
On Friday, Indeed.com listed 789 restaurant job openings in Baton Rouge. Hightower said that matches what he's hearing from colleagues.
"Everybody is struggling with hiring. I was on a call for the Restaurant Association and that got us the message of the entire industry nationwide. We are all trying to get back,” he said.
Restaurant owners cite several reasons for the employee shortage.
"Everybody went from COVID staff to need a whole lot more staff. Now a lot more people are comfortable going out,” Zito said.
Hightower said unemployment and economic stimulus money have dampened interest in restaurant jobs.
"We're faced with something I think is relevant to a lot of people's recovery, which is government incentives to make ends meet, which I'm not here to fight, but I am here to let people know that we need people to come back to work,” he said.
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