RICHMOND, Va. -- After the pandemic lockdown devastated so many in the restaurant industry, business owners are hoping to rebound -- but doing so isn't easy.
A recent Virginia Restaurant Lodging and Travel Association (VRLTA) survey shows 83% of restaurants are hiring, and 84% of restaurants say their current staffing levels are below normal.
Michelle Wilson, owner of Ma Michele’s Cafe on Hull Street in Chesterfield knows the struggle of hiring staff all too well.
She typically has about 10 to 12 employees, but right now she only has two: a prep chef and herself. Because of this, she's only been able to offer to-go dining.
"We have the people as far as customers," Wilson explained. "We just need the people to serve them."
The longtime business owner has boosted her front of the house pay to $10 an hour plus tips, and she's also offering signing bonuses to try to fill open positions. But she said event still, no one is applying.
“I noticed quickly that we're not even getting applications," she said. "People are literally not applying. I have my job descriptions all over Indeed and all of the marketable places that people will go to search for jobs, and nothing... zero. And so it kind of put the burden on myself and my prep cook I have, it's only two of us. “
Jim Wilson, Vice President of the VRLTA, said their study also found 60% of restaurants said it will take seven or more months to return to normal staffing levels.
"The situation we're in right now is the worst that I've ever seen," he explained. "I've been with VRLTA going on six years now. Pre-COVID there was definitely, you know, a tight, tight labor market. And you know, we had issues with hiring...but nothing like this.”
Wilson believes the shortage is likely caused by a number of things, including workers shifting to other positions when the pandemic hit, some struggling to find childcare and also the fact that Virginians can make a substantial amount on unemployment right now.
But if restaurants don’t find staff soon, he’s worried this could impact more than just the number of people dining out in Central Virginia.
"Here in Richmond, we've got the meals tax, which goes directly to our schools," Wilson explained. "So as restaurants aren't able to open, that that reduces the taxes that go towards our schools, which you know, slows down our recovery as a total, as a whole."
Thursday afternoon, the VRLTA is hosting a multi-city virtual job fair from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Wilson said there will be over 90 businesses with over 400 jobs available.
"The great thing about the hospitality industry is that there are roles for everybody," said Wilson. "There's entry-level jobs, all the way to management."