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Restaurants, small businesses continue to battle staffing shortages

Published: Sep. 6, 2021 at 6:30 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - A year ago people were rallying behind “essential workers;” however, this Labor Day, the people working in public-facing roles are still overcoming staffing and supply shortages and increasingly are encountering more impatient customers.

No longer is it uncommon for stores and restaurants to have to close for the day because enough people didn’t show up to work. The hospitality industry has been particularly hard hit.

Workers at Savor couldn’t open Monday because they didn’t have the staff to operate. Drug stores, fast food restaurants and convenience stores have faced the same problem.

Help wanted signs are staked on the side of busy roads and taped on the doors and windows of businesses. And restaurants like K Bueno sport huge banners over its doors, hoping to attract potential applicants.

“We’re just taking it one day at a time and planning for the next week,” said K Bueno front of house manager Chrysta Miller.

K Bueno is closed one day a week so staff has at least one day off. It’s critical rest, given some people at the restaurant are regularly working anywhere from 10- to 14-hour days. It’s a situation that’s grown even more dire in the last few weeks.

“Everybody went back to school, so right now it’s an even more difficult time going into the fall season with not a lot of availability or people not wanting to work right now,” said Miller.

The staffing crisis manifests itself in several different ways: cutting off to-go orders, longer waits, backed up kitchens, all adding up to unhappy customers. It’s a story staff at Vito’s Pizza in Wrightsville Beach has heard before.

“I’m making a piece of bread into a pizza from dough — it takes time to bake it — I can’t make it cook faster,” said Vito’s manager Anthony Merck.

Vito’s also has a sign in its window. Merck says he and another employee worked until 3 a.m. Sunday night and were back again at 10 a.m. Monday to gear up for another day.

“We did the late-night shift, we had to come back and open in the morning so we’re trying; we’re stretched thin, but we know that if we can make it through the next couple weeks then the tourist season ends and we will be fine.”

With extra federal unemployment benefits wrapped up, and the end of the summer crowds, business owners are looking for the light at the end of the tunnel, but they also have a gentle reminder for their customers until things better.

“I just wish that people would go out and be kind — just be kind — this is hard on everybody,” said Miller. It’s not just in our industry, it’s in all the industries and every business around —just be kind.”

Job search assistance is available through NC Works and local NC Works Career Centers.

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