Restaurants are back, but have a hard time finding workers

Angela Albanin, who owns Maria’s Greek Restaurant in Coral Gables, never dreamed she might need to close the eatery she’s owned for decades.

She has already cut the restaurant hours from 11 to 9 per day, but unless she can add three more employees to her crew, she may have to shut down.

“We have been able to stay afloat but if the hours continue to shorten and the business doesn’t go back to normal, I don’t know what the future holds,” she said. “It would be very sad to close a business that has been open for 35 years.”

Like Maria’s, many restaurants across South Florida and around the country, can’t find employees even as the pandemic eases.

A September survey by the National Restaurant Association found that nearly 80% of restaurant operators can’t find enough staff.

About one in nine restaurants reported lower profits because of increased food and labor costs, along with higher rent.

Almost half of the survey respondents said it will take more than a year for their businesses to recover, and one in five said they never will.

While larger restaurants can offer higher salaries as an incentive, small places like Maria’s can’t afford to spend any additional money.

Albanin said she doesn’t plan on changing what she pays her employees. Servers make $6.98 per hour, the minimum wage for that position, plus tips.  

A few weeks ago, she was offering a $300 bonus for people who could start working right away. But back then, no one had applied.

“Raising salaries just to convince them to work will not keep my business standing for much longer,” she said. “We have to be realistic; my restaurant just won’t survive so it’s not a good solution for small restaurants.”

Because of the staff shortage, restaurant owners have been forced to take on more responsibilities.

Jorge Decespedes, owner of Diego’s Andalucia Tapas in Coral Gables, said that he has to work in the restaurant all day, even after closing hours, because of all the chores he needs to complete before opening the next day. On top of that, he must manage the business. He said he barely has any time for himself.

“Aside from being the owner, now I have to be the chef of my restaurant and do all the cleaning,” he said. “After a hard day of regular work, it is very exhausting to have to continue working.”

As waiting times increase, some customers grow impatient and leave.

Victor Gonzales, the manager of El Floridita Seafood Restaurant on Coral Way, is missing a chef, a host, two bussers and two kitchen helpers.

“Many customers are so demanding that they get upset after only waiting five minutes for someone to come to their table,” he said. “But unfortunately, my small staff and I just can’t do it all.”

Albanin, of Maria’s Greek Restaurant, said she’s trying to keep her customers satisfied but it’s difficult and overwhelming.

“Mom and pop restaurants like mine are not equipped to handle these setbacks,” she said. “So, we have to work extra hard to stay in business.”

Shantel Sanchez is a senior at Florida International University studying to become a broadcast journalist. She enjoys traveling and going to the beach with her family. Another one of her passions is marketing, as she enjoys learning about the field and the strategies that are used.