Business Insider quotes FML on restaurants’ struggles to find workers

Aug 06, 2021

I was quoted in a recent Business Insider article about how restaurants are dealing with a dearth of workers, and getting creative to fill those openings. Here is a link to the full story.

I’m in the very unique position of experiencing this issue from both a personal and professional perspective. In addition to working with clients in the food service industry here at FML, my sister also owns a restaurant. Things have gotten so tough that I’ve been helping her out by working shifts on holidays.

Here are a few excerpts from the article. Excerpt 1:

Angel Li knows how challenging it can be to find workers right now. Her sister owns a restaurant in Connecticut, which has three openings. Li, who’s a partner at accounting firm Fiondella, Milone & Lasaracina, has had to help out on a few holidays. Some of Li’s clients are restaurants, and she said that she has seen others like her sister struggle to hire and have had to find “creative solutions.”

“Currently, there is no backup plan for if someone misses a shift or needs to quarantine,” Li said in an email. “My sister is the only backup plan right now. Filling the open positions she has would often be the difference between her working until 2 am prepping for the next day, or going home at 9 pm.”

Excerpt 2:

For Li’s sister, that means hiring workers from out of state, usually New York. Her sister picks these workers up on Thursday and drives them back on Monday, providing them with a house while they’re in Connecticut.

“A lot more restaurants closed in New York than in Connecticut, so there actually are talented people in all types of positions looking for jobs there and some of them are happy to take a position in Connecticut that comes with a place to live,” Li told Insider in an email.

Excerpt 3:

Li said she knows one cafe she advises that has increased pay by about $3 per hour to retain employees. “Even with the strong retention because of the higher wages, the owner is short-handed and hasn’t taken a day off since early 2020,” Li said.

I had some other thoughts and ideas and that weren’t included in the article. I’ll share those with you now.

My sister owns a restaurant in South Windsor. It’s mainly takeout, so thankfully it’s been very busy during the pandemic. But staffing has been a huge issue. I’ve had to pitch in working holidays. I was there New Year’s Eve, Christmas, Christmas Eve. It’s just what you do when you have a family restaurant.

As an accountant, I also advise many restaurants, and across the board they are all having a hard time hiring. We look for creative solutions. One that has been working well is for Connecticut restaurants to hire workers from out of state and provide them with housing.

Every Thursday, my sister drives to New York City to pick up her employees. They stay in a house she rented for them until she brings them back to New York on Monday. Everyone has their own room when they’re staying at the house. Some of the employees moved out of their New York apartments and stay with friends in the city so they currently have no rent and are able to save.

While many Connecticut restaurants have closed, overall they have weathered the pandemic fairly well compared to restaurants in New York. My sister’s restaurant, and others in the area, are doing something that would make no sense pre-pandemic. They are posting job listings in New York and putting the word out in the city that they are hiring and then providing transportation and housing to bring workers to Connecticut to staff their restaurants. That’s just how hard it is to hire restaurant workers in Connecticut right now. There are “help wanted” signs at just about every restaurant you see.

There have been fewer job applicants throughout the pandemic. Normally, my sister’s restaurant employs college and high school students. Those applicants disappeared during the pandemic and haven’t returned. Some may not be vaccinated and their parents don’t want them to take the risk. Those students that are in the labor market have a lot of options right now.

There is barely enough staff to meet customer demand. The restaurant closed for the month of April in 2020 due to lack of staff. She and her employees are putting in long hours. Demand is currently normal but was at an all-time high during the height of the pandemic. January and February were the best since the restaurant opened in 1987. Normally, those are slow months, but everyone was getting takeout this year so it was extremely busy.

I haven’t seen any of my clients offer signing bonuses as an incentive to hire new employees, but I have seen a lot of increased wages. One of my clients is a cafe that specializes in smoothie bowls. It’s a small, local place that has done well during the pandemic because it’s mainly takeout and people in the neighborhood feel safe going there. They raised pay for their employees by almost $3 per hour and it has helped them retain staff. Even with the strong retention because of the higher wages, the owner is short-handed and hasn’t taken a day off since early 2020.