Now that they’re are open to full capacity and there are almost no COVID-19 restrictions, area restaurants are dealing with a new challenge — hiring staff.
“We’ve been open 20 years here, we’ve never had to close the restaurant because we literally couldn’t staff our restaurant,” said Barry Depaolo, co-owner of Anthony Jacks Grill and Bar. “We’ve been closed now the last six Monday’s. Everyone is working a lot of overtime and burnt out so we had to do something.”
DePaolo said the business is down about 10-15 employees compared to before the pandemic.
“I’ll put an ad on Indeed.com and there’s probably 5,200 ads for the same position,” he said. “I might get 10 resumes and out of those 10, maybe 1 person will call me back for an interview. A lot of times, that one person won’t show up for the interview.”
The restaurant hires as young as high school students that can be hosts and bussers, but the restaurant needs the most help in the kitchen.
According to the state’s website, as of last month the unemployment rate was 7.7 percent, the lowest in over a year. Although the unemployment rate has been decreasing every month since the beginning of the pandemic, the restaurant industry continues to struggle.
The National Restaurant Association reports that the food industry lost 2.5 million jobs in 2020. Federal data show that by April 2021, there were 1.4 million job openings in restaurants and hotels.
Zingarella, another Southington restaurant, announced on Facebook it will be temporarily closed due to staff shortages with no date planned for reopening.
Owner, Mark Zommer said he lost his top server and chef and because he hasn’t been able to replace them, closing the business for a while was the best option.
“My workers are working overtime with no breaks and they are getting tired and frustrated,” Zommer said. “Then the quality of your food goes down. You don’t want to have to close, but I pride myself in serving good food.”
Local restaurant owners like Zommer find that the additional $300 for those receiving unemployment benefits is the biggest competition for hiring new employees. The additional supplement is scheduled to end on Sept. 4.
“The unemployment benefits are really hurting the supply of workers that work in restaurants,” he said. “It’s terrible.”
Other restaurants, AJ’s Oasis and AmericanSoul Kitchen and Bar in Meriden and Serafino’s Restaurant in Wallingford have increasingly turned to websites like Indeed and using “urgently hiring” icons.
“I think everyone, everywhere is having this problem,” Serafino’s owner Fabio Pillacela said. “I try to work with the staff we do have now.”
Pillacela said he has considered possibly changing the hours of the business or being open fewer days, but the restaurant is managing to stay on its feet for now.
Dave Carabetta, owner of Fratelli’s Italian Restaurant, said in the last five months, his restaurant has also struggled to find employees.
“This is almost as big of an issue as us not having customers,” Carabetta said. “During the pandemic, we survived with takeout. We thought when we could get customers back in our restaurant, our problems would be solved.”
Although finding employees has been an issue, Carabetta said business has been going well and his customers are great. He is optimistic that in the fall, restaurants may be able to recover.
“It’s been tough, a lot of us are just burnt out,” he said. “I think that in September, maybe people will be looking for jobs more. I really don’t know, but we are hoping so.”