Chicago restaurants are feeling the heat of burnout and staffing shortages

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CHICAGO — Local restaurants and catering businesses are struggling to serve customers as staffing shortages hit the industry.

Dan Smith has worked in the restaurant industry for over 20 years. Although his company, Hearty Boys, has survived the pandemic, Smith says there is still a struggle.

“We thought, ‘great, people will be coming back to work in droves because everyone’s gone,'” he told WGN News. “This does not happen.”

With weddings postponed during Covid, Smith said business has picked up, but hiring staff to work on her events is a challenge.

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“These are people we will never see again,” he said. “They came, they did a job and they didn’t show up for the next job. We are still going through this. We thought 2022 would be back to normal. It’s not.”

It is a nationwide problem.

According to the National Restaurant Association, seven out of 10 restaurants are currently understaffed. Nearly a quarter of all workers who left their jobs last year worked in the hospitality industry.

Lorraine Orbon, owner of Tuscan Hen Market in the central north, said 2022 had been the toughest year since it opened.

“In March I lost two of my key employees,” she said. “I was on a full-time, one part-time and I so we had to close dinner hours. I don’t open on Sundays even though that could be very profitable. I just can’t keep the staff.

Orbon had to raise salaries to attract staff, which resulted in higher costs being passed on to customers.

But losing employees is still a regular occurrence.

“Retention is the other issue, I think, because there are so many restaurants looking for work now,” Orbon said. “Workers know that, so if something they don’t like, they might want to start looking for another job.”

Smith blamed the initial shortage of workers on the distribution of unemployment benefits.

“It’s gone, so I think in part people have left the industry completely,” he said.

Smith says the employees who stayed are burnt out, working in understaffed restaurants and finding work in other industries.

Local business owners are hoping something will change.

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“It narrows down what I want to do here,” Smith said. “I hope 2023 will be back to normal last year. That didn’t happen. I hope to get back to that.”

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