Following shut downs and uncertainty during the pandemic, historic labor shortage adds frustration to restauranteur

by | Jun 15, 2021



Restauranteurs have been through a heck of a year. Many restaurants didn’t survive the pandemic. You would think the owners who made it through would be sighing in relief, but no, now they have a whole new problem — they can’t find anyone to work.

Florida is experiencing a historic labor shortage.

Florida’s hospitality industry was devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As the travel, tourism, and hospitality industries shut down internationally, more than 934,000 of Florida’s 1.5 million hospitality employees were furloughed or laid off.

Today, according to the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), Florida still has more than 460,000 jobs available, including tens of thousands from entry level to managerial in Florida’s hospitality industry.

“I’ll be honest, it’s frustrating,” said John Horne, Secretary/Treasurer of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA) and owner of Anna Maria Oyster Bars in Bradenton. “Our state and our governor have done such a great job of saying we’re open and we have people coming here to experience Florida, but they’re not able to get the experience we’ve always been able to give them because we’re short-staffed.”

“It is so frustrating to be a customer, but to be a restauranteur right now,” he sighs, “We’re busy. We’re busy as we can be. I’ve got four restaurants on the west coast of Florida. I’ve got one that’s doing numbers it has never ever done. It’s not just because menu prices have gone up. It’s just, there are people everywhere. It is just so frustrating when we’re not taking care of them.”

He said a lot of the local people are very understanding, “but you know, when we’re getting the tourists, they don’t understand. They’ve come to Florida and are pretty excited to be here. It’s the ‘funnest’ state in the country. But then they get horrible service, or it takes a long time or whatever the case may be and they’re like ‘well this isn’t a great experience and not what we want to be doing.’”

His frustration level peaks when talking about trying to find employees. He said he is currently looking for four people for one of his kitchens but hasn’t gotten any response in eight weeks.

Horne said he was very fortunate that he has a core “awesome” staff that has been with him “forever,” but then “I’m working them to death right now, everybody’s working overtime. You know I don’t even look at my labor over time on my financials right now because it drives me crazy. There’s nothing, nothing you can do. It’s either that or you close stations and we can’t do that. We’ve got people in town. We need to take care of them. So, we’re just relying on our awesome staff to work extra and to keep a smile on their face.”

Lots of restaurants are having to close several days a week, just to give the remaining staff a break, which really hits their bottom line.

The cause of this labor shortage is multifaceted. First there are the federal unemployment subsidies which, in many cases, make it more profitable for people to stay at home than work. But he said that wasn’t the only cause. He also says some people were hesitant because they were worried about contracting COVID or possibly taking it home to loved ones.

Horne said that he hopes now that the federal subsidies are stopping and more people are getting vaccinated, more people will return to the workforce.

According to Horne, those who are working are making good money.

“Everybody’s making great money right now,” Horne said. “There’s no question about that.”

He said his servers who are working for tips are making more money as sales go up. He said he has increased the hourly pay to his back of the house workers by about $3 per hour.

But its not just money that motivates the workers. “Money’s awesome. But it’s also they’ve got to feel appreciated for what they’re doing and they got to feel that where they’re working is high quality and it aligns with their goals.”

To assist those in the hospitality industry find workers and help those reentering the workforce find a job in a place that aligns with their goals, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association has set up a new website, GreatFloridaJob.com.

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