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Restaurants here say staffing deficiencies are not unmanageable

by Junius Stone | May 16, 2021 at 3:44 a.m. | Updated May 16, 2021 at 3:46 a.m.
Chili's is one of the local eateries that has reported trouble hiring in the current labor climate, to the point they are operating at reduced shifts.

TEXARKANA - Some local restaurants are having trouble finding staff.

For some, it is an ongoing challenge. For others, a sign of the times.

Blame it on the pandemic, or ripple effects that stem from it. By any measure, good help is hard to find.

During the pandemic, of course, many restaurants closed down or had to drastically limit occupancy as a matter of public safety. Staff members were let go as a matter of course. It made business sense.

But now that COVID-19 cases are decreasing, more and more people are getting vaccinated and officials have allowed restaurants to fully reopen, what made sense a few months ago is causing some consternation today.

In situations, for examples, where employee still receiving unemployment checks, they may have little incentive to return.

Here, that problem doesn't seem as acute, at least according to a sampling of restaurants.

While Chili's, on Mall Drive, is feeling the hiring shortage, with signs out front advertising both shortened shifts as well as the fact they are hiring, other eateries are less pinched.

At Applebee's, at Interstate 30 and Summerhill, they are operating full shifts. They are, however, hiring.

"We need hosts, bartenders, servers, especially to staff our evening shift, which is the one that is more active," said host Ciara Swinney. "We are open from 10:45 a.m. to midnight and our nights are busy. Things have been that way since the mask requirements were lifted."

Loca Luna opened its second location on West 7th Street a few weeks ago. Owner Hector Leal reported slow recruiting in building the staff for his new restaurant. But he managed to get the place staffed, so they went ahead and opened.

Wendy's on State Line is constantly hiring, according to Angela Heath, general manager.

"We aren't having any trouble hiring, though we are constantly doing so," she said. "The other Wendy's in Texarkana, on New Boston Road is also having no trouble hiring, though they are constantly doing so."

Another common theme that may not be apparent here but that is running through the national scene is that some of these jobs are still seen as hazardous because of the direct contact that certain employees have with customers. And since a lot of the restaurant reopenings happened simultaneously, there is competing demand for the talent in this part of the workforce.

Another unexpected consequence of the pandemic slowdown is that individuals who were let go found work in other fields or used the opportunity to go back to school and/or get retrained in other professions.

The National Restaurant Association reports that 2.5 million related jobs were lost to the pandemic, and more than 100,000 food and beverage establishments closed their doors. About 700,000 of those particular jobs were lost in Texas during the pandemic's peak.

Anecdotally, the outlook here doesn't seem as bleak.

At McAlister's Deli here they do not report any issues hiring people, and are currently getting a crop of new people up to speed.

"We still are hiring but no trouble," said Cecila Alvarado, general manager. "Hiring for us is handled through our Dallas office."

Some restaurants have decided the best tactic is to sweeten the pot. McDonald's, for example, is raising wages at its corporately-owned restaurants (about 5% of its outlets) as a competitive measure to attract workers.

Likewise, the pandemic brought some unexpected opportunities. Curbside and take-out sales opportunities are continuing many places, even though the pandemic is slowing down. Some jobs were created that didn't exist before.

And, strategies that were initially seen as short-term have now been made permanent. In Texas, for example, wine and mixed drinks can now be part of pickup and delivery food orders - a product of just passed legislation.

So restaurants are dealing with a little bit of opportunity and a little bit of angst.

They have a lot of things on their plates, to be sure. And are having to scramble at bit.

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