Consider the unprecedented staff shortages when planning a trip to a restaurant

In a recent survey, nine out of 10 Michigan restaurants reported having inadequate staffing to meet customer demand

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

Sporadic closings, shorter hours and pumped up sign-on bonuses for new hires — things have never been this dire when it comes to the restaurant staffing shortage. 

Indoor dining has been allowed at 100% capacity in Michigan for nearly two months now, but many of the restaurant owners I've talked to are so short staffed that they can't seat a full house anyway.

A restaurant displays a "Now Hiring" sign, Thursday, March 4, 2021, in Methuen, Mass.  The American job market delivered a surprising burst of strength in February, raising hopes that the rollout of vaccines will allow the U.S. economy to gain momentum as the weather warms up.

Several times a week, I see a business announcing on social media that they're closing for a day or two because they just don't have the staff. Restaurant industry veterans have told me that finding employees has never been as difficult as it is right now. 

The worse it is the worse it gets, it seems. If a restaurant is short-staffed, it means more stress on the employees that are there. One restaurateur told me he raised wages for his current staff because he had to hire in at higher rates and wanted to be fair to his existing employees.

Add on the rising cost of food and supplies and the recent storms that caused flooding and power outages, and for some restaurants Aug. 2021 is scarier than Aug. 2020. 

A recent survey from the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association highlights the severity of the problem. Nine in 10 restaurants surveyed are operating with "with inadequate staffing to meet consumer demand." More than 85% of full-service restaurants in the query said they have closed early or for some portion of the day because they don't have enough workers. 

It's even worse for hotels; many can't fill up every room because they don't have the staff to turn them over. On top of that, you've got rising demand for travel coming out of 2020 but a smaller workforce than in 2019. 

If you've gone out to eat lately, or tried to, the effects are obvious. I'm seeing restaurants of all sorts — sandwich shops, food trucks, neighborhood favorites — close randomly for the day or even the week because they just don't have people.

Maybe you've gone into a restaurant, seen half a dozen empty tables and still be told it's a 30-45 minute wait to be seated. It's frustrating for both the diner and the customer, but honesty about wait times is a better policy than overworking servers on the floor, which could result in mistakes; putting in too many orders at once could overload a short-staffed kitchen. 

As diners, we can bring patience and understanding. Give yourself extra time when going out. If you're visiting a restaurant for a specific dish or experience, call ahead and make sure it's available. Big groups should always call ahead, even if the restaurant doesn't take reservations. 

The restrictions on indoor dining capacity and curfews may be way in the rearview, but the veil of uncertainty has not lifted for bars and restaurants. 

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mbaetens@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @melodybaetens