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Survey: Most Colorado restaurants are struggling to hire workers

Businesses are struggling to hire a workforce that can keep up with the new demand now that COVID restrictions are loosening and people are looking for things to do.

COLORADO, USA — Just as COVID-19 restrictions start to lift and customers are eager to get out and do stuff again, it's tough to find workers for some industries right now.

The Stanley Marketplace in Aurora, home to about 50 different businesses, hopes to help many businesses find new employees with a job fair on Monday.

“The staffing is thin; folks are definitely stretched,” said Ally Fredeen, GM at Stanley Marketplace. “You have business owners working weeks in a row without a break, management and their staff as well. They’re stretched. They are hanging in and doing the best they can.”

The problem extends across the state, where nine out of every 10 Colorado restaurants are having a hard time hiring, according to the results of a new survey conducted by the Colorado Restaurant Association.

Among the restaurants surveyed from April 23- May 7, CRA said:

  • 65% of operators believe the primary hiring obstacle is workers preferring to remain on unemployment benefits
  • About 15% of operators report their workers left the restaurant industry for other jobs
  • More than 10% of operators city increased competition for hiring as a factor in the shortage problem

“We were wondering how it was going to be when we came out of pandemic, and it’s not as plentiful by any means in labor force,” said Nicolas Farrell, who owns Mondo Market at Stanley Marketplace and is currently hiring, too.

“Our challenge in that is really understanding how to be picky in a market where you can’t be picky.”

In the same survey, CRA says 84% of restaurants report changing how they hire and retain employees:

  • 95% have increased wage rates
  • 21% have begun offering benefits packages

“The gift in what’s happened with COVID is, its forced anybody who wasn’t looking at that, i.e. ‘upping’ the standard in our industry that a lot of us have been operating for many years, they’re now forced to do that,” Farrell said.

“You should be developing jobs for people that’s sustainable. Just because you’re slinging a pan, washing a dish, helping guests – it doesn’t make you any less valuable for someone behind a desk.”

The Stanley Market job fair runs from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Monday, May 24.

“It is a true job fair in that there’s something for everybody,” Fredeen said. “We have roles available in wellness, beauty, fitness… we’re hiring a kickbox instructor! We need chefs; we need food and beverage workers, retail.”

She added, there are summer jobs available for teenagers looking for something when the school year ends.

Sonia Riggs, President and CEO of the Colorado Restaurant Association, offered this statement on the current state of staffing shortages in Colorado’s restaurant industry:

“Hiring and retention are extremely pressing issues for restaurants right now as Level Clear goes into effect, eliminating capacity restrictions in restaurants and bars. In a recent survey, more than 90% of Colorado restaurants reported having trouble hiring enough staff for summer patio season. And now, with social distancing requirements lifted and almost every restaurant in Colorado trying to hire workers, there’s a serious staffing shortage across the state. 

There are many reasons that restaurants are citing for this staffing crisis, including enhanced unemployment benefits, workers leaving the industry for other jobs, and increased competition for hiring. It’s a complex situation.

But the restaurant recovery from the impacts of the pandemic has already begun, and there are incredible opportunities for hospitality-minded workers to join the industry at all levels. We’re hearing from operators across the state that they are optimistic and investing in changes to rebuild better than ever and continuing to make their restaurants safe, equitable, and gratifying for guests and workers alike. Wages are higher than ever before, and benefits are becoming a more common part of restaurant compensation, including mental health and wellness programming. 

It’s a brand-new day for restaurants, and we hope that all levels of government will support the industry’s hiring efforts. We are pleased that the Governor’s office is taking action with the Colorado Jumpstart program to incentivize people to return to work, although we would have preferred it if the program was targeted at the industries impacted the most by the pandemic including restaurants. That said, eliminating some of the barriers of returning to work – such as childcare issues – with these incentives is a huge step forward for restaurants and small businesses across that state.”

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