Walking past restaurants in Gainesville, people will find themselves hard-pressed not to see a door or window adorned with a sign that reads, “We’re hiring.”
“We’re all in the same boat,” Josh Tedder, co-owner of Sliced, said. “Everybody is struggling to turn out a quality product in a reasonable time frame.”
Tedder said he recently had to close his Sliced location in Buford on Sundays because he doesn’t have enough staff to meet the demand of customers. He currently has openings for full-time and part-time staff at four of his Sliced businesses.
“At this point, if someone said, ‘I can cook two nights a week,’ and had experience, I’d hire them on the spot,” Tedder said. “I don’t even know I’d go through an application interview process.”
Scott Dixon, owner of Scott’s Downtown in Gainesville, said every single day over the past three months someone has either not shown up to work, called to give an excuse not to work, not appeared for their first day on the job or bailed on a scheduled interview.
“I told a friend of mine that I literally get anxiety when my text message alert goes off because I’m wondering what is happening now and what additional challenges are we going to be facing today,” Dixon said.
He added that he has been forced to run his business differently because of low staffing. Since Scott’s reopened in May 2020, the restaurant hasn’t returned its lunch hours. Dixon not only manages employees, he also cooks, preps food, washes dishes and fills in wherever needed.
Bobby Peck, manager of Longstreet Cafe in Gainesville, said the restaurant industry has never been a glamorous field, but for some reason, the past three to four months have dealt a brutal blow to businesses, particularly with staffing.
“It’s tougher now than it’s been in the last seven to eight years, at least for us,” he said. “We used to never have any problems not getting anybody. We stayed ahead of the curve. Now it’s just tough to even get applicants, much less anybody to work.”
Julia Still, owner of Harvest Kitchen in Gainesville, said she is considering limiting her customer capacity instead of stretching her employees thin. Unlike most restaurants in Hall County, her business first opened during the pandemic.
“Nobody seems to be looking for work,” she said. “As business has picked up, we’re now sprinting to keep up demands, but we can’t seem to find any hands.”
Dixon, Peck and Still said they think unemployment benefits have played into many restaurants’ inability to hire staff. Dixon noted that it seems as though those who are unemployed in the U.S. are incentivized not to work, which has caused a societal shift.
“For a lot of people, there’s the perspective of, ‘Why would you go back to work when you can make the same amount of money or more off unemployment?” Still said.
Lindsey Irvine, a chef at Harvest Kitchen who used to manage Midland Station, described the past few months as “the perfect storm.”
She believes the issues with staffing stem from several reasons, including the work environment, low wages and period of unemployment during the beginning of the pandemic.
Irvine said she thinks many of those in the food industry who were let go from their jobs had a period of reflection and realized they’d rather work a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. office job instead of 13-hour days in a restaurant.
“Some people don’t get treated well in the industry,” she said. “Why work a job where I get treated like crap or don’t get paid well, when I can get a job in a different industry?”
And unfortunately, those who still work as chefs and servers have to fill in the gaps left by the lack of staff. Oftentimes, Irvine said this can result in burn-out with employees, causing the cycle to continue.
“I wish that everybody at some point in their life would work in the service industry to understand it,” she said. “It changes your view.”
Irvine said she has continued working at Harvest Kitchen because she is truly passionate about her job. She suspects many of those who have stayed in the restaurant business during the pandemic feel the same.
“I enjoy creating a space for people to celebrate their birthday, graduation and have a night with a friend,” she said. “So much of that community aspect in our lives happens at a table around food.”
Tina Roberts, co-owner of 2 Dog in Gainesville, said her business has held off on opening for brunch because of lack of staff.
On behalf of restaurants in Hall and across the state, Roberts said she wants people to know that they have tried to keep a positive attitude, “but a positive attitude only goes so far when you have customers who don’t understand the scope of how restaurants work.”
The next time someone notices slow service at a restaurant, she encourages them to take a moment to be understanding and see the bigger picture.
“I want them to know that my workers are human, that we are human,” Roberts said. “If COVID has taught us anything, I hope that it’s patience. Patience and to remember that there are humans working in these restaurants.”