National Restaurant Association president visits RI, talks workforce shortage

Business News

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Few sectors of the economy were hit as hard by the pandemic as restaurants, but as restrictions are lifted and more people are going out, the industry is starting to get back on its feet.

“Business is getting a little bit busier over time,” Davenport’s general manager Thomas Chikeles said. “It’s definitely not where it used to be, but we’re slowly getting back there.”

Tom Bené, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association, paid a visit to Rhode Island on Tuesday and got a first-hand look at the issues that businesses are dealing with.

“There’s no question right now that there’s a huge worker shortage,” Bené said. “We’re very focused as an industry working through: ‘how did we get here, and more importantly, what do we need to do to change the trajectory going forward?'”

“Basically, just finding staff and finding people to come to work and calling people on the phone that say they’re coming for an interview and they don’t show up for the interviews, their phone numbers don’t work and their emails don’t work,” Chikeles explained.

And the East Providence restaurant isn’t alone. Mat Levin, director of operations at Plant City Providence, echoed Chikeles’ frustrations, saying the workforce shortage is affecting his business.

“We kind of forecasted that it was going to be an issue, going back as far as February when we initially started seeing people coming back to the buildings,” Levin recalled. “We started to ramp up our hiring and training, it was a struggle and we are still trying to fill holes now.”

The shortage has also left many restaurants and bars unable to open at full capacity, despite being able to do so.

“One of our concepts inside is called ‘Makeout Cafe’ and we had to close that in November,” Levin added. “It’s been a struggle to get the staff in place to actually man that because that’s a separate entity hall in itself, so we had to hire a new team for that area.”

“We’re able to open up at 100%. The problem is that we can’t open our full patio, we can’t open certain areas every day the way that we normally would,” Chikeles said. “We have to turn away banquets sometimes as well.”

Bené pointed out three things he believes have had the greatest impact on the workforce: additional aid given to people at home, macroeconomics such as working mothers having to stay home due to lack of child care, and the closing of restaurants during the height of the pandemic forcing many workers to shift to open positions in other industries.

“We’re working hard to attract those people back to the industry,” he said.

“This is an industry that you know is so important to the communities where we all live and work in,” Bené added. “It is a core piece of every community.”

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