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Memphis restaurants struggle to find employees

Updated: Apr. 3, 2021 at 8:04 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Business is starting to return to near pre-pandemic levels for local restaurants, which business owners say is a welcome improvement.

But now restaurants are running into a new problem, they don’t have enough employees to support that increase in business.

The President of the Memphis Restaurant Association told WMC Action News 5 that everyone is struggling to get fully staffed after having to lay off workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

People who used to work in restaurants were forced to leave the industry and may not be returning.

“Business today is great,” said Daniel Evans, Assistant General Manager Babalu Restaurant.

Easter weekend thus far is continuing a very successful couple of weeks for local restaurants.

All afternoon, Babalu Restaurant in Overton Square had a 30-minute wait or longer for a free table.

But the business boom is causing a new problem.

“It’s a feeling of relief just because you know business is there. On the opposite end, because of how busy it is, sometimes we don’t have enough people to handle that rush,” said Evans.

“We’re hiring. We really want to secure as many jobs as we can,” said Kelly English, Chef and Owner of Second Line and Restaurant Iris.

Saturday, the employees at Second Line were preparing for the busiest brunch of the past year expected on Sunday.

English said these employees are having to work much harder than normal recently.

“Teams that are working in restaurants right now, we’re stressed to the max. That’s not just the servers you see that’s the cooks, that’s the dishwashers, that’s the owners, that’s the managers,” she said.

“Everybody people much now is working doubles here all day and multiple times a week,” said Evans.

English and Evans both said that nearly every local restaurant is hiring to handle the increase in business after being forced to lay off employees due to the severe effect on restaurants during the height COVID-19 pandemic.

The issue is those who were laid off have often found new jobs and may not be coming back.

“Everybody is competing with each other now because everybody is looking for a new place to go so right now with employment it’s very hard to find people,” said Evans.

English said, “We’re laid off most of our staffs over the last year. And some of the ones that we did that had other passions have had times to focus on that. And a lot of people with a ton of restaurant experience just aren’t out there looking for the jobs that we have right now.”

English and Evans both said they are optimistic business can return to full pre-pandemic levels sometime this summer.

But in the meantime, they said restaurants are hiring, they need help fast and they don’t know how they’ll be able to fill those jobs.

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