What does the economy wide staffing shortage look like to a customer?

Status of many restaurants. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

What does it look like from the customer side when businesses cannot find enough employees? My wife and I found out a few days ago.

After relaxing on Memorial Day, pondering the ultimate sacrifice by so many to provide the freedoms we enjoy, and exercising those freedoms, we decided to go out to eat. We went to Victoria Gardens, a large shopping center near our home.

Since the tradition for the day is cooking cheeseburgers on the grill but we don’t have a grill, we picked a ‘50s style café where we could get a cheeseburger and sweet potato fries. Yum!

Normally they would be open until 10 or 11 o’clock. Walking up to the restaurant we saw a paper sign taped to the door announcing they were only open until 8 PM.


The door was locked. There were a few staff inside who appeared to be going through their end-of-day cleanup routine.

It was a few minutes after 6 p.m.

They usually are open late, at the time they were planning to close early at eight, but this day (Memorial Day holiday weekend when there were massive numbers of people walking around and going to restaurants) they had the door locked at six.

Very odd.

Well, we decided to go to a favorite restaurant a block away. This the place we often go for celebration dinners like anniversaries and birthdays.

How long is the wait? we asked. An hour and a half to two hours. Glanced inside the restaurant noticing they had well less than half the tables occupied. Didn’t have enough staff to even run half the tables.

We decided to take our appetite and our money somewhere else.

Wandered over to a burgers and fries place. Ordered some cheeseburgers and sweet potato fries. They were wonderful, by the way.

A little before seven one of the two workers in the store closed the doors, which previously were open. A few minutes later a couple walked up to the door and found it was locked. I looked inside the restaurant and the two staff were going through their end-of-day cleanup, stacking chairs, and sweeping the floor.

This restaurant closed before seven. On a Memorial Day holiday. Like I said, when there were huge numbers of shoppers out and about.

So what does it look like when restaurants can’t find enough people to go to work?

They close in the middle of what should be there rush time.

Over the last week or two I have noticed a number of restaurants with paper taped to the front door announcing temporary hours, which are shorter than the normal routine by several hours.

For quite a few weeks I have noticed most restaurants and a huge number of other small stores have been showing a “help wanted” sign in the window.

Lots of companies are looking for more staff.

Here is a very small selection of recent articles pointing out the problems businesses are having and getting enough staff. There can find a lot more around if you look for a moment.

6/3/21 – Wall Street Journal – Restaurants, Supermarkets Can’t Find Enough Workers to Open New Locations – Lack of available workers is hindering companies that are trying to open locations. Interesting point raised is opening a new restaurant or grocery store requires hiring a large number of people all at the same time with those staff willing to wait a few days or weeks until the store is open. Many of those people, if they actually want to get to work, will seek a position elsewhere.

Article says the Department of Labor says there were 8.1 million open job positions at the end of March.

This is at the same time that the Department of Labor statistics release, updated weekly, showed a combined total of 9.2 million people drawing state-level and federal level unemployment insurance at the end of March.

For the week ending 5/15/21 there was still a combined total of 8.7 million people in the state and federal unemployment roles.

This data at the end of March is so confusing to me –

  • 8.1 million open job positions.
  • 9.2 million unemployed.

Article points out the staffing shortage may come to an end quickly. It is likely a number of factors will come together to get a huge number of people out on the street jobhunting. These factors include:

  • the greatly enhanced unemployment benefits will end in September (which will end the oddity of unemployment paying more than a job),
  • many states have already opted out of the enhanced benefits (because of the negative collateral damage),
  • expectation that schools and daycare centers will be operating at full capacity by the fall, and
  • rapidly expanding number of people who have been vaccinated (reducing the fear that has been fanned by government and media for over a year).

Article suggests restaurants are increasing their pay, perhaps as much as 10%. Also plenty are using sign-up bonuses.

4/25/21 – Wall Street Journal – Restaurants Serve Up Signing Bonuses, Higher Paid to Win Back Workers – Yes, this issue has been visible for well over a month.

In the face of rapidly rising consumer demand, restaurants are given direct raises and offering creative bonuses.

As a hint of what I saw trying to find a place to eat last Monday, article says many restaurants are closing early.

Staffing struggle exists even at high-end restaurants, including one where waiters can hit $100K a year after tips.

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