Local restaurant labor shortage ‘tail’: long nights, longer waits, yet aiming to please

By Sarah Brown

Across the country, restaurants work hard to meet diner expectations with fewer employees.
Photo credit: Daniel Bradley, Unsplash

The Covid-19 pandemic continues to have a severe impact on the customer service industry, especially restaurants. Despite the lifting of most restrictions, one issue that continues to fry restaurants across the area is staffing shortages.

The Bonefish Grill is a popular dining spot in Newtown Square, offering customers dine-in and takeout options. Despite the lifting of Pennsylvania’s pandemic restrictions, staff shortage continues to be problematic for all areas of the restaurant staff.

In an article about staff shortage, reporter Victoria Lucas of Fox43 in Harrisburg wrote, a large portion of pandemic resignations have been in the restaurant and hospitality industries “…with 900,000 people combined leaving both industries in August.”  

Bari Sugarman is one of four managers at Bonefish Grill hired during the pandemic. She said the staff shortage has led to the restaurant having to limit its recent business. 

“In times like these, we’d love to be making as much money as we can to make up for the business we lost [during the pandemic]. But we also don’t want to give people a bad experience,” she said. “At the same time, the staff you have, you don’t want to run them into the ground either.”

One of the limitations Sugarman mentioned is capacity restrictions that can lead to longer wait estimates.

Managers are not the only ones feeling the effects of the staff shortage. It’s a problem other staff members feel as well. Chloe Barnes has worked at Bonefish Grill for five years and serving for the last two years. She is one of less than half of the servers remaining from before the pandemic.

“It’s affected my job because by not having enough staff. You get super burned out,” Barnes said. “Everyone has to take over shifts when we’re not able to cover. It’s a lot of work.”

Despite staff shortage being a broader problem that’s not limited to Delaware County businesses, not everyone takes it into consideration. Sugarman emphasized the importance of the public having patience when confronted with these issues.

“Usually, when we explain that we’re short-staffed, most people will understand because they’ve seen the news. But not always,” she said. “I have younger people working at the host stand. They handle a lot already, and I don’t want anyone yelling at them. They don’t deserve that.”

Despite this ongoing problem, not all areas of Bonefish’s business have been negatively affected by Covid-19. The Grill’s To-Go sales have significantly increased since the pandemic started.

“Our To-Go sales went from being about 2-5 percent of the business. It completely shot up,” Sugarman said. “We’ve had to really focus on how to make the To-Go experience as good as we can and try to equate it to an in-person experience.”

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