DENVER — If you need a job, try walking into nearly any restaurant you can find.
As vaccines roll out and the COVID-19 pandemic eases, hiring a full staff is the latest challenge facing the hospitality industry.
"Every restaurant in the country is struggling to hire," said Bobby Stuckey, owner of Frasca Hospitality Group.
Stuckey owns several restaurants across the metro area, including Tavernetta in Denver and Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder. They’re ready for a post-pandemic boom in business.
"The hottest line from guests to politicians to everyone is we’re going to have these roaring 20’s. We would love to see that, our industry probably needs a decade of roaring 20’s just to claw back from the last year," said Stuckey. "If we don’t have the employees to do all the meal periods and to seat the dining room at 100%, it doesn’t matter how many guests want to come in, we won’t be able to."
Nearly 100,000 restaurant workers lost their jobs in Colorado since the pandemic began. The Colorado Restaurant Association says many are reluctant to return, for many reasons. Some want to stay on unemployment while others don’t feel comfortable interacting with people yet. Restaurants are enticing applicants with their benefits.
Frasca has been offering benefits for years. Now that's helping them entice new employees to join their restaurants.
"For a restaurant group to have insurance, a 4% matching 401k, those are benefits that most restaurants don’t have so that has helped us," said Stuckey.
Linda Hampsten Fox owns the Bindery in Denver. She also offers benefits and has now moved some hourly employees to be salaried.
"It’s been an extremely challenging year," said Hampsten Fox. "This is not a new problem. Hiring staff was a problem before COVID honestly. It’s just a problem that has become even worse."
As more customers sit down at her tables, she’s ready to hire more staff. Now she needs the applicants.
"People are coming out. The last few weeks have been really amazing, but it’s very challenging when we’re shorthanded," said Hampsten Fox. "Denver is a very competitive market and there is only a certain pool of qualified professionals."
While there are many factors involved in why restaurants are struggling to hire workers right now, there's hope the staff shortages don't last long.
"We are hearing from operators across the state that they are optimistic and investing in significant changes to continue to keep their restaurants safe, equitable, and gratifying for guests and workers alike," wrote Sonia Riggs, CEO and President of the Colorado Restaurant Association in a statement to 9News. "Wages are going up, and benefits are becoming a standard part of restaurant compensation, including mental health and wellness programs. There is an incredible opportunity right now for hospitality-minded workers to join the restaurant industry, at all levels.”
In a year filled with challenges, restaurants want to finally get back to doing what they do best.
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