Oregon restaurants still struggle to hire full staff
Oregon restaurants are trying – and failing – to rehire workers and staff. For most restaurants, this means a smaller team, limited tables and shorter hours.
PORTLAND, Oregon – Drive in Oregon – or anywhere in the country – and you’ll see “We’re Hiring” signs everywhere.
This is particularly evident in the service sector, which was hit hard during the pandemic. As the state reopens, restaurants are struggling, trying to recruit again.
Even with strong demand, the hotel industry is slow to recover.
“We are as busy as possible from open to close compared to what we can handle and manage well,” said Cana Flug, owner of Besaw’s and Solo Club. “It’s just fundamentally changed everything.”
“Now we’re trying to reopen, trying to get back to normal. And, yes, that’s a challenge,” said Nate Tilden, owner of several restaurants in Portland, including Bar Casa Vale. “It’s not like we can flip a switch and come back to it. We have to go through this process.”
From fine dining to fast food, restaurants in Oregon try – and fail – to hire workers and staff. For most restaurants, including Bar Casa Vale and Besaw’s, that means a smaller team, limited tables, and shorter hours.
Tilden cooks on the chain a few evenings a week, and the restaurant is only open five hours four days a week.
Besaw’s is not open for indoor dining and has limited its hours as well.
“I can’t push harder on my staff right now to be open unless we have more body,” Tilden said. “It was very difficult to find bartenders, cooks and waiters.”
With summer particularly good for dining in the Columbia River Gorge and the Oregon Coast, the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association (ORLA) says owners are concerned. They make most of their money for the year in the summer.
“We have a lot of operators who don’t have to be able to have full hours. They would like to be open when they need to get back on their feet financially,” said ORLA’s director of government affairs. , Greg Astley.
ORLA cites a few reasons why restaurants have trouble finding workers:
- employees have options since everyone is hiring at the same time
- people still receive extended unemployment benefits
- parents should stay home and care for their children
- a lot of people have left the industry; pandemic and yo-yoing closures have created too much uncertainty
“People were able to change careers and find a different space to work,” Astley added. “We’ve seen all kinds of incentives, we’ve seen hiring bonuses, retention bonuses, higher hourly wage benefits offered.”
Ultimately, restaurateurs say this problem – and the pandemic as a whole – has exposed flaws and offers a chance to change the industry for the better.
“It’s a lot for a lot of people to conceptualize by going back to what it was,” said Flug. “We have to reimagine what it looks like.”
Restaurant owners say higher starting salaries, even tip structures and better and fairer hiring are all good things to come out of the pandemic. They believe that over time restaurants will become more efficient and the culture will change.
But they fear more restaurants will close if they can’t recruit and meet demand.