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Restaurant Worker Shortage Prompts Current Employees to Speak Out About Experiences

Galesburg Voices American Crossroads
Shafkat Anowar/AP
As more individuals seek to dine at their favorite restaurants in the upcoming months, restaurants are desperate for more applicants due to the shortage of restaurant workers.

Many Peoria-based restaurants were forced to close during prime dining hours due to a shortage of workers this spring and summer. Managing and serving in restaurants is more challenging than ever for those who have stayed in their positions in the food industry.

A host at Tequila’s Mexican Bar and Grill, who asked for her name to be withheld so she could speak candidly, says it is hard on one’s mental health to work long hours due to the shortage of restaurant workers.

“The cooks, they’re literally here all day from 9 a.m. until 11 p.m. sometimes. They don’t really get to go home; they don’t get to see their families. We don’t really get to eat that much or rest.”

The host also says many customers verbally mistreated the workers during the pandemic- becoming frustrated at Tequila’s Mexican Bar and Grill workers for enforcing strict COVID-19 policies while also balancing a shortage of employees.

“Some people cuss at us. Some people just leave. I would say for people to be more considerate- to actually treat food service employees like people.”

Kendall Bradshaw, general manager at Jersey Mike’s Subs, also says there are several resulting complications from being low staffed, and he has picked up a great deal of the responsibility.

“If I don’t have somebody that can cover the shift or show up for the shift, I would have to take it. During the pandemic, a lot of times I was the only reason this store was opening every day. As far as trying to find workers, there seems like there’s some interest out there for work, but it’s just not quality workers, and I think that’s really been a big hit for us.”

Bradshaw says the pandemic positively changed the procedures at Jersey Mike’s, and he encourages people to follow the CDC guidelines and trust that restaurants are not unsafe environments to work or dine in, given their safety precautions.

“The pandemic brought about a change in how people clean and how seriously they take cleanliness, and I think that’s actually really helped our restaurant because now we’re really paying attention and really focusing on the cleaning aspect.”

Former server and current manager Maddy Farney began working at Uncle Bob’s Homemade Ice Cream during the pandemic, and she says it’s hard to please every customer because of the limited number of employees and because of the busyness.

“The customers have to recognize ‘oh there is a really long line outside,’ or ‘they are really busy right now and I need to be patient and I’ll get my food when I get it.’ It’s not that we’re purposefully taking long to make their food. It’s just that we have a lot of people to see, and we’re doing our best to do it as fast and as good as we can.”

Farney went on to say that she has always enjoyed working in the food industry, and she continues to enjoy it even with the recent demands and lack of employees.

“I will say it is definitely nice staying busy. I’m not going to complain that we’ve been busier because nobody wants to be slow when you work at a restaurant. But it is very hectic, and it puts a lot of pressure on not only employees but also the mangers of the business.”

Todd Hohulin, owner of 2Chez, considers himself very lucky. All of his staff members stuck by his side through the pandemic. The main challenge 2Chez is currently facing is product supply.

“So we’re just really looking forward to a day where maybe the supply chain for food and products can kind of equalize and balance out, and so we can not have to deal with that anymore. But outside of that, we’re just really thankful to be up and going again and serving people like we did before the pandemic.”

Hohulin says all of his staff members are vaccinated, and they feel confident that they will be safe working in the upcoming months.

While each restaurant has different experiences, everyone is hopeful that more individuals will choose to apply for positions soon to shore up staffing issues.

Restaurant workers on the job today hope that soon… things can return to normal.

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Jordan Mead is a reporting intern at WCBU. She joined the station in 2021.