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Restaurants struggle with staffing amid rising COVID cases: 'The employee is in control'

restaurant revitalization
Posted at 11:15 PM, Jan 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-11 23:41:43-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- As COVID cases surge, restaurants in Central Virginia are experiencing staffing shortages that are forcing them to limit their days open or not open their restaurants at all.

"We just have full confidence that in the end, we're going to survive and be okay," Paul Kincaid, the owner and general manager of Carytown restaurant Can Can said. "We are still only using about 75 to 80% of our normal table usage. So things are still not as packed as they were before."

He said that despite vaccinations and masking, cases of the highly contagious omicron variant of COVID-19 have popped up at his business.

"We shut down the restaurant from Christmas Eve basically until last Wednesday," Kincaid said.

While the move was bold, it was one that Kincaid felt was necessary.

Nancy Thomas with the Richmond Region Hospitality Association said the decision made to temporarily close down the restaurant was actually made with the customer in mind.

"They're trying to maintain and preserve the staff they have," Thomas said.

Thomas said the omicron variant has led restaurant workers to think twice about re-entering that sector of the workforce.

Safety concerns opened the door to the worker shortage but there are other longstanding underlying causes as well. Thomas said the restaurant worker shortage is getting worse and there's been somewhat of a power shift.

"Employees are really seeking more flexibility, higher pay. And right now, the employee is in control," Thomas said.

While Can Can is open for dining once again, it will be staffing instead of customer demand calling the shots.

"We are only open five days and we had hoped within the next couple of weeks, we'd be open six, depending on staffing issues. It looks like we might still have to do five," Kincaid said.

Can Can is not alone in this issue. Jojo's, a popular Richmond pizza shop, has been planning for months to open a new Southside location.

However, in a Facebook post last month, the restaurant said that while they have been trying to open, they have had a difficult time finding employees.

"Our biggest lesson is stay nimble. No matter what, we're willing to change our gameplan and adjust to make sure that everything's working as smoothly as possible," Kincaid said.