Restaurants struggle to hire staff as influx of customers increases

APEX, N.C. (WTVD) -- Increasing vaccinations, decreasing COVID-19 metrics, warm weather, no mask mandates or capacity limits, and pent up demand are all coming together as a recipe for a business boom for Triangle restaurants.

"We've seen an almost overwhelming surge of customers, by far setting sales records on a week-to-week basis," said Justin Gallus, owner of Plates Neighborhood Kitchen in Glenwood South in Raleigh.

Jennifer Duckart, co-owner of Salem Street Pub in downtown Apex added: "We're doing numbers comparable to what we were doing pre-COVID."

Unfortunately for Duckart, they're only able to capitalize on that four days a week. With just four full-time kitchen staffers and two part-timers, they say they're unable to do more, announcing this week that they will no longer offer lunch service.

"We don't want to disappoint our customers. We have such a loyal, committed customer base that we've depended on for the last 13 years," Duckart said. "It's hard to disappoint them to tell them, 'sorry, we can't open for lunch.' Or 'we can't open Tuesday's and Wednesday's.' So it's frustrating, it's disappointing. We're trying to do the best that we can. We're trying to advertise, use every avenue we have to advertise for employees."

The struggles are even more upsetting after they recently opened an expanded area.

"The governor just eased the restrictions. We're able to run things wide open, if we had the staff to service it. But we just can't," Duckart said.

The restaurant's manager seconded that struggle.

"We are constantly going through ads. We're setting up interviews, a lot of those interviews aren't showing up," said Salem Street Pub manager Ryan Walters.

Gallus said he's also had his share of no-show interviewees.

"We're all competing for that same depleted talent pool, I think. During the lockdown a lot of restaurant folks went off and did other things, found other careers, and just haven't come back and probably won't come back," Gallus said.

Plates had to slightly adjust its morning service after a line cook left earlier this year, and Gallus has spent months trying to fill the position. While it has recently beefed up its front-of-house staff, it is still working to address the kitchen staff.

"We've definitely raised our base pay just to be able to retain the good people that we have. And anything is on the table now in terms of starting wage," Gallus said.

Both restaurants credited the hard work of their staffers in responding to big crowds as they express hope that they'll soon be able to hire help.

"We're running with a skeleton crew and have been since the beginning of the year," Gallus said. "So, it's scary to think about it. We don't think about it. We just keep our heads down and do the best that we can."
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