As the holidays approach, restaurants are still struggling to find enough staff. Celebrating 35 years in business, owner of Paolo Lombardi’s Ristorante in Wynantskill, Paul Lombardi knows the recipe for success, but wonders if it'll be enough following the devastation caused by COVID-19.
“It’s been a long time, I’ve been working at it my whole life,” said Lombardi. “Continuing on, long days, coming in early in the morning. It seems the older I get the harder I have to work but we’ve been hanging in there.”
He says the business has adapted and grown over the years, but nothing could have prepared him and his crew for the pandemic.
“I’ve never faced these challenges and most of the people who are alive today, I don’t think have gone through a pandemic like this,” said Lombardi. “It’s changed everything.”
Nearly two years after the shut down temporarily put a halt to indoor dining, Lombardi said the customer demand is back but the applicants aren’t.
“We’re struggling to try and find help to keep the establishment going,” said Lombardi.
According to the National Restaurant Association, 78% of restaurant owners across the U.S. report they don’t have enough employees to support their current customer demand. The state of New York has one of the largest deficits compared to pre-pandemic restaurant staffing levels.
In February 2020, the number of restaurant workers was more than 650,000. It plummeted to a little more than 200,000 two months later.
A year-long steady increase slowed down in recent months. Restaurant staffing is currently still down 21%.
“Sometimes guests come in and they see that there’s tables open but we can’t really seat them because we don’t have the manpower to actually fulfill the service,” said Lombardi.
Lombardi said the pandemic has caused plenty of other problems that are blocking business at restaurants, too.
“We’re facing challenges of food cost, labor cost, packaging... everything has gone up 30, 50, to 100%,” said Lombard.
Take-out has made up for some of their losses and they plan to stick it out, but Lombardi feels for those who haven’t been so lucky.
“When I came into town there was probably seven or eight establishments, now there’s probably only two of us left,” said Lombardi. “We hope that we’ll get a few more establishments and give people more options to be able to dine at.”