GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The pandemic has challenged most industries in one way or another, but one of the most impacted has been restaurants. After trying to stay afloat with shutdowns and capacity restrictions, some are now facing a new challenge — staffing. 

“I think staffing has always been a pervasive issue with the hospitality industry as a whole and I think COVID has just exacerbated that,” said Austin Wisner, lead sous chef at P.F. Chang’s in Grand Rapids. 

Wisner said he has been working 52 hours a week to keep up with the demand, and his executive chef has been working open to close almost every day — more than 80 hours a week. 

“A lot of our team members are working more than they expected to work and out of the generosity of their hearts. It’s hard to see people get burned out and get tired and be exhausted because they have to work a really long day,” he said.

The restaurant has tried to get creative with hiring, from community outreach, to putting QR codes on takeout bags that bring people to an online application, but Wisner said it has been difficult to find people to fill the positions. He believes it could be for a couple different reasons. 

“People not feeling maybe comfortable to go back to work or ready to engage, you know, one-on-one with a guest or with a group of people,” said Wisner.

Another concern is the inconsistency the past year has put on the industry itself. 

“I think people are definitely worried about another lockdown or another spike,” he said.

Wisner, however, said he believes things are moving in a positive direction. 

“We’re 50% right now. We’re only moving forward from here. I’m really hoping that it continues to stay this trend and we’re doing everything in our restaurant to make sure that all of our team is safe, all of our guests are safe,” he said.

Although many employees have stepped up to help, Wisner said the solution shouldn’t be to work people harder, but to spread the work more evenly between more people. He says P.F. Chang’s is hiring for almost every position right now — from servers, line cooks, to dishwashers — full-time and part-time.

“There’s a lot of talk in the hospitality industry that there is not job progression, or they don’t see a future in the hospitality industry and speaking from experience, I started as a busser. I went from the bottom up. There is so much to PF Chang’s it has so much to offer and I’m really grateful to work for such a wonderful company,” said Wisner. 

He encourages anyone interested in an open position to apply online, call the restaurant or stop in for an application.