For some Charleston restaurants, the staffing shortage shows no signs of stopping


Staff Infection

YoBo Cantina Fresca West Ashley will no longer be open on Sundays. Owner Katharine Gottfried says that after losing “an insane amount of staff in the last two months,” she had no choice but to lock the doors on Sundays and close an hour early each other night of the week.

Speaking of the staffing hemorrhage in an email earlier this month, Gottfried says, “Some have put in proper notice but most have either not shown up to work and forfeited their jobs or given notice via text, the day before they were scheduled to work. One was actually deported back to Mexico after his papers were denied (after residing in this country for over 20 years… but that’s a different story). This week alone I lost a line cook Saturday (no show), a server Sunday (texted that he quit before his 10 a.m. Monday morning shift), and another line cook Wednesday (no show).” Gottfried estimates the closure has meant a loss in sales of 10-15 percent.

For as much ink has been spilled on the topic, no end appears to be in sight for restaurants desperate to keep employees. And the problem doesn’t discriminate between casual and high end dining.

According to a New York Times article, in 2017 37 percent of National Restaurant Association members said labor recruitment was their top challenge, a 15 percent increase from 2015.

“For every 20 applicants, I get two viable resumes and I’m lucky one of those shows up for their interview. One day last week I had five interviews and only one showed,” says Gottfried.

Over at the just announced Establishment restaurant, Concentrics group’s latest project at 28 Broad St., developer Todd Rushing says he’s feeling the staffing shortage as he prepares to hire for his 140-seat space opening May 2.

“Charleston is the hardest market I’ve ever experienced hiring,” says Rushing who has opened 46 restaurants throughout the country. “I knew it would be difficult because it’s difficult everywhere. Atlanta is six and a half million people and we struggle because the unemployment numbers are so low, but there’s a constant flow.”

It’s even worse in Charleston in Rushing’s experience. “I had my HR person come in and she said ‘You wouldn’t believe it, everyone has ads posted … the places that have been around forever are looking for people. We’re gonna have to come up with another way to capture people.'”

Does it make Rushing nervous? Of course.

“It’s frightening,” he says. “I’m confident that we’ll get there, as we say in the restaurant business, ‘we always find a way to get it done,’ but I’d much rather have a full staff and we’re ready to go. It is frightening.” 
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The struggle to build a good team means restaurateurs are having to change their hiring strategies. Rushing said he courted his Chef Matt Canter for about a year.

“He brought on his two sous chefs,” says Rushing who’s kept the three busy at Dockery’s, his recently opened Daniel Island restaurant, while The Establishment has been under construction. But that’s just a handful of positions for a space that will require dozens.

“It seems like no matter type of restaurant or neighborhood location, restaurants are going out of their minds trying to keep staff in place,” says Gottfried. “Personally, I attribute it to the number of restaurants we have in the city. Staff can bounce from one place to the next because we are so desperate to fill spots, we will take almost anyone that simply shows up!”

Gottfried was feeling a slightly more optimistic in a phone interview today. She hired two people this week and has two more interviews scheduled. Plus, she knows that even with YoBo’s change in hours, her regulars will stay loyal.

“Thanks god we’ve been in business for so long and have a good reputation and following,” she says. “To cut our business back is a loss but we’re not alienating people.”

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