ST. LOUIS — A whole menu's worth of St. Louis restaurants have tweaked operations as they struggle to find and keep employees. With operating hours limited by available staff, restaurant owners are stepping up their hiring efforts with incentives and higher wages.
At Mission Taco Joint, co-owner Adam Tilford said his restaurant chain has not been able to open up to pre-pandemic hours of operation, even as St. Louis city and county loosen COVID-19 restrictions, due to the lack of employees to cover those additional hours.
One example is the chain’s late-night happy hour, which usually runs from 10 p.m. to midnight throughout the week with deals on tacos and tequila. It went on hold during the pandemic, but Tilford said Mission Taco is bringing it back — only for Friday and Saturday nights.
“Once we get more employees hired and trained, we will begin to expand those hours during the week as well,” he said.
While on the hunt for workers, Mission Taco is focusing on retention by raising nontipped, minimum-wage employees to $15 per hour, a $250 bonus on employee appreciation day and referral bonuses for current staff that refer a new employee that stays on for 90 days.
Tilford expects the employment challenge to last throughout the summer with the extension of federal unemployment benefits.
“With the additional unemployment benefits of $300 a week going through Sept. 6, we could see a major shortage of employees in the hospitality industry for some time,” he said. “I think this pandemic has opened more eyes to a lot of the issues in the restaurant industry regarding everything from low wages to mental health concerns.”
According to the National Restaurant Association, restaurant employment has grown each month this year. However, full-service restaurants had staffing levels that were still 20% less in February than they were a year ago. That's a total of 1.1 million jobs. At quick-service and fast-casual restaurants, employment was down more than 6% in the same time frame.
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