As COVID-19 restrictions loosen, restaurant owners face workers shortage

Restaurant owners say less people are applying for jobs in the industry.

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – As more people get vaccinated and cities slowly open back up, hundreds of jobs have returned to restaurants. But many restaurant owners say fewer people are applying for those positions.

"Our revenue is closer to 2019. So that's going up. But staff is just really not there," said Michelle Lavigne, Bar Bombón's vice president of operations.

Bar Bombón, a downtown restaurant in Philadelphia has been getting back to pre-pandemic crowds. But the size of their staff is down 25% from where it needs to be to operate at full capacity. 

"We are extremely short-staffed. We've had to take tables away or just say unfortunately we're not seating at this time," said Lavigne.

Owner Nicole Marquis runs eight other restaurants in Washington D.C., Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs. 

Bar Bombón, a downtown restaurant in Philadelphia has been getting back to pre-pandemic crowds. (KATIE BYRNE/FOX NEWS)

"Well, this has definitely been a year of extreme challenges, one after the other. And our latest challenge is hiring and recruiting," said Marquis. 

The restauranteur noted in the wake of the pandemic, it’s a sign of people leaving the industry.   

"It's really understandable. Our employees, when we did the layoffs, had to decide, ‘What are we going to do next?’ and they had to look at industries that weren't shut down during the pandemic," said Marquis.


According to Marquis, some workers are having to stay home with their kids while they attend school remotely due to COVID-19.

"It's painfully ironic that we worked so hard in 2020 to bring back the sales, and now we're having our newest challenge which is recruiting," said Marquis.

Gina Cipolloni pours a drink at Harry’s Savoy Grill in Wilmington, Delaware. (KATIE BYRNE/FOX NEWS)

In Wilmington, Delaware, Gina Cipolloni has been a server at Harry’s Savoy Grill for 13 years.

"I am a single mom of two kids and this job allows me to put my kids through Catholic school. I am able to pay their tuition, it's a flexible schedule so if they have off from school I'm able to take off," said Cipolloni.

In addition to waiting tables, Cipolloni also creates the staff schedule every week. 


"Anywhere from a busser up to a server, it's quite difficult to staff the needs for the demand of the restaurant," said Cipolloni.

According to the National Restaurant Association, the number of restaurant jobs has gone up every month this year. Staffing, however, is 20% lower than it was a year ago.  

"As we lose people, there just aren't people to fill the spots. We just don't get that many applicants," said Xavier Teixido, the owner of Harry’s Savoy Grill.

The restaurant, which Texido has owned since 1993, has had a "now hiring" sign in front of the restaurant for months. 

A 'now hiring' sign in front of Harry's Savoy Grill in Wilmington, Delaware. (KATIE BYRNE/FOX NEWS)

"It's hard because you also don't want to overwork your staff. And sometimes you just have to,'" said Cipolloni "just to get through the week." 

Several restaurants are using "old-school" means as well as social media to attract potential employees. "We have signs on the window, we have signs outside. We also are using website pop-ups. So, we're definitely engaging people on social media," said Marquis. 

Other eateries are even using cash in the hopes of luring new employees. This week, Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Café announced $250 hiring bonuses for hourly positions.