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‘It’s depressing’: Labor shortages still plague restaurant industry during busiest time of year

Published: Dec. 9, 2021 at 6:07 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - More businesses are starting to get back to normal after months of instability during the pandemic.

However, some restaurant owners say they feel left behind. Now, many are asking for help from the federal government.

In the midst of a supply chain issue, Memphis restaurants say the labor shortage is still their biggest problem.

Every day, Mary Laws, co-owner of Memphis’ RP Tracks, is eager to go through applications in the hopes to fill at least one of her eight open kitchen positions. But the applications just aren’t there.

“It’s just depressing,” Laws said.

Laws is working with half the kitchen staff she needs. She said the labor force never came back as restaurants started to open up.

She admits, the service industry hasn’t historically had desirable benefits with sometimes unstable hours and low pay. Now, the service industry is being put to the test to create competitive employment packages for new hires.

“In the last four months, we’ve gotten health insurance for our staff, we pay 50 percent of their premium, we increased the pay for the kitchen and front of house,” Laws said.

Mike Miller, the president of the Memphis Restaurant Association says in Memphis, several large industries are competing for a small group of workers. He calls the competition fierce.

“To say the least,” Miller said. “Yes, FedEx and Amazon with their facilities, along with just all the logistics piece of the Memphis economy that is competing with the service industry, is part of the problem.”

Nationally, independent restaurant owners say Congress can help solve that problem.

The Independent Restaurant Coalition (IRC) is urging Congress to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. IRC says only a third of restaurants who applied for money from the fund received anything.

“Businesses have to compete with their neighbors who have the financial flexibility to pay down their losses, hire back workers at competitive rates, and make the repairs they simply don’t have the cash to make,” said IRC Executive Director Erika Polmar.

The service industry’s busiest time is during the holidays. It’s now a time for this important reminder.

“Be patient, be kind, be nice,” Laws said.

There has been legislation introduced to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. The Restaurant Revitalization Fund Replenishment Act has bipartisan support in Congress, according to the IRC. One of the sponsors of the bill is Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker (R).

When the legislation was introduced Wicker said:

“The Restaurant Revitalization Fund provided a lifeline for America’s small and independent restaurants. Our restaurants are now beginning to recover from a year of lost revenue, but many establishments are still hurting and have not been able to access aid for which they are eligible. Replenishing this fund would help restaurants, their staff, and the broader food supply chain as they continue to get back on their feet.”

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