Owners: Expect slower service as worker shortage impacts restaurants

Coronavirus

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The mid-morning line at a popular Grand Rapids McDonald’s is longer than usual, and the sign at the drive-thru tells you why.

It reads, “Our apologies! We’re working hard but we’re short staffed.”

McDonald’s franchise owner Ken Berg doesn’t own the location News 8 visited Tuesday. But he does own four other local McDonalds in Comstock Park, Ada, Lowell and Plainfield Township.

He says most McDonald’s owners could use another 10 to 15 workers.

“To me, it looks like our competitors are hurting even more,” Berg said. “I see our competitors closing earlier, opening late. So, I know they’re hurting more than us.”

It’s not just the fast-food chains. Full-service restaurants are feeling the pinch as well.

“I’ve done this for 25 years. It’s the most challenging labor market I’ve ever seen,” Mike Karas said.

Karas owns Salt & Pepper Savory Grill and Pub in Holland. After being closed for dine-in service for months due to the pandemic, his indoor hours had to be cut.

“Today was our first day reopening after a month of being closed on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday lunches just because we were short staffed,” Karas said. “If we stayed open those days, we would have to work the crew that we had doubles, five, six days a week. And then you burn them out. Then you’ve got nothing.”

But avoiding burnout also cost his bottom line.

“For us, it’s 12 to 14 thousand dollars a week in revenue. When you’re a small place, that’s a lot of money,” Karas said.

According to the National Restaurant Association, employment at eateries is on the rise. But as of March, the levels were still 1.8 million below pre-pandemic employment figures. And it’s not just because some restaurants haven’t returned to full service.

Better paying manufacturing jobs in the Holland area have cut into Karas’ employment pool.

But a call from a new employee the day before she was supposed to start illustrates another issue. This issue is created by the unemployment safety net that was so vital throughout the pandemic.

“She said, ‘Hey, I’m not going to be there. My $8,400 check just came in, so I’m going to stay home with my family for a while,’” Karas said.

As the pandemic numbers come down, those incentives won’t last.

Along with higher pay, McDonald’s pre-pandemic incentives like assisting with college tuition have helped attract and retain, especially school-age employees.

Karas is considering incentives like a signing bonus to come work at his restaurant.

Karas is convinced this storm won’t last forever. He’s just hoping it doesn’t get worse.

“It’s going to turn. All of these (situations) are cyclical,” Karas said. “This is the worst cycle I’ve seen.”

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