Local restaurants were dealing with staffing challenges more during the last couple of years, but seem to have gotten back to being fully staffed this year, a restaurant co-owner in Batavia said this week.
Matt Gray, co-owner of both Eli Fish Brewing Co. and Alex’s Place in Batavia, said the last two years have been very challenging for the restaurant industry with labor and skyrocketing food costs. For the two restaurants, though, things are looking up.
“At this point, we’re in the best place we’ve been since COVID began in March 2020. At both of our locations, we are fully staffed,” Gray said. At Eli Fish, there are 32 full- and part-time staff members combined.
“The kitchen was always the hardest challenge for the hardest challenge for the last two years,” he said.
Gray said there are around 28 full-and part-time staffers. At both locations, Gray said there hasn’t recently been a problem with employees having to tell him on short notice that they wouldn’t be able to work.
“During the middle of it (COVID), when everything was kind of chaotic, we did have some instances where we’d have short-notice callouts or even just COVID positives, where you would have to reschedule your entire week or two weeks, at times in order to fill the gaps in. That puts a lot of stress on staff that is there and working to cover the gaps,” he said.
As to what he’s heard other restaurant owners saying about these issues, Gray said it’s all they’ve talked about the last two years. He added, “Right now, it’s the best it’s been. We feel like we’re near the end. The labor market has come back for us. It feels like we’re heading in the right direction.”
Asked whether finding people to work rather than collecting unemployment or working somewhere else at a less strenuous job is an issue, Gray said, “We haven’t seen that since 2021. It hasn’t been an issue to us.”
Staffing levels at both restaurants were noticeably better in the first quarter of 2022.
“We started seeing people returning to the workforce. Applications started increasing. The quality of the people coming in, (the people) were experienced,” he said. “It’s been good this year.”
Bonnie Woodward, owner of the Alabama Hotel restaurant in Basom, says the restaurant is lucky to be fully staffed. She has 23 part-time employees.
“We’re finding it hard to find dependable help that’s willing to work for the money we’re able to pay them. When you bring them in, they don’t have any work ethic,” she said Thursday.
Some think it’s OK to let you know, the night before they’re supposed to work, that they can’t come in the next day.
“You have no time to replace them, to get someone to take their spot,” Woodward said. “I had someone who worked here for two years and he just thinks it‘s OK to come in late. You hate to fire them because you need help. He shows up an hour late, says it’s not his fault.”
The Alabama Hotel owner said she had to let that person go.
“I let him go because he was setting a bad example for everybody else. You have to have people you can depend on,” she said. “Who do you find to replace somebody just for one shift? They want a job that they know they have so many hours they can work and what (hours) they can work.”
Woodward said she has bussers who are students.
“They don’t want to work everyday because they have sports and stuff. I have four waitresses. I have five people I can use as bartenders. Some of them I use twice a week and some I use once a week,” she said, noting they can’t work every day because they have families.
“My kitchen staff is what I really need to depend on. There’s five of them right now,” she said.
Bonnie Woodward says people on the Internet say owners don’t work or need to work a little more.
“The owners are constantly working. The owners have to be available to take the spots when people don’t show up. If the owner’s doing the cooking, who’s going to do the prep work if the prep person doesn‘t show up?” she said.
“Today (Thursday), I usually have someone coming in … to help me out. He makes certain dishes for me. I have a prep woman who preps stuff for the salad bar, make sure the salad bar,” Woodward said. “Neither of them were able to come in today, with good reason, but they’re still not here.”