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‘We can’t find the help’: Amarillo restaurant owners struggle to find employees

Updated: Apr. 13, 2021 at 7:49 AM CDT
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AMARILLO, Texas (KFDA) - Amarillo restaurants say they are facing an extreme shortage of employees, speculating a combination of unemployment, stimulus checks and fear of COVID-19 are the cause.

The Panhandle Restaurants Association says they are getting numerous calls from local businesses saying they cannot staff their restaurants.

“It’s the worst that I can remember seeing it,” said Kevin Hawkins, former president and current board member of the Texas Restaurant Association’s Panhandle chapter. “They’re putting hire signs out and they’re getting online and trying to hire and we just cant find the help to take care of the customers.”

Restaurateurs say they have plenty of applicants, but very few show up for interviews.

They wonder if applicants are only applying so they qualify for unemployment.

“The first day out of the eight people that we scheduled to do an interview, one showed up,” said Hawkins. “The next day we had five interviews and one showed up. It makes you wonder, are they just filling these things out to collect unemployment? I don’t know.”

Bray Goodheart, the owner of House Divided Restaurant and Sports Grill says his candidates are cancelling interviews because they just received an unemployment or stimulus payment.

“I believe our biggest competition in the job market is the government,” said Goodheart. “We’ve thrown everything out there, cast a net, as big as we possibly can to get people to show up and we’re getting phone calls of people saying [they’re] not going to come in for the interview because [their] unemployment just hit.”

Restaurants say this shortage of employees comes at the worst time.

Home Plate Diner is experiencing their busiest months as summer sports begin, yet they are struggling to find back-of-house staff.

“It always seems like when this time of the year comes around I’m always looking for people to hire. I’ve been looking for people for a couple months now,” said Royce Green, owner of Home Plate Diner. “This year had been extremely hard. You’ve always needed people and been able to find them, this year I cant find anybody.”

For Crush Win Bar and Grill, largely known for their outdoor seating options, summer months are crucial for business.

The wine bar has started an incentive for their employees to find new, long-lasting hires.

“Our staff goes up about 20-25% in summer months, and usually we can staff it within a week for both front and back of the house, but this years it’s taking much longer than that,” explained Connor O’Rourke, owner of Crush. “This year we’ve actually instituted a ‘bounty program’...so we’re rewarding our staff for bringing in people.”

Other restaurants, such as Sumo Japanese Steakhouse, say they are paying employees more than they ever had before.

Many restaurant owners agree this issue is not specific to one type of job, rather they are struggling to find both front and back of house employees.

“We’ve put just about anything out there, we’ve got numerous employees that are driving vehicles we own. We are doing any incentive we can to get people through the door,” said Goodheart. “It’s front of the house, back of the house, it doesn’t matter...and we have worked our tails off.”

However, while currently in the midst of an employee shortage, restaurateurs say this is costing them business as they are making customers wait to be seated despite open seats. This is because they do not have enough staff to tend to customers.

“There were two restaurants this last week that was making people wait at the door because they only had four servers when they usually have eight or 10,” explained Hawkins. “They just couldn’t feed the rest because they didn’t have the staff, so if you’re seeing slower service or inadequate service, that may be a factor.”

Restaurants are also spending extra money to put advertisements on sites like Indeed.com.

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