Local restaurants, bars dealing with labor shortage
Different factors behind growing trend

By: CHRIS BUCHER - Freeman Staff

Sept. 10, 2016


The Daylee Public House was forced to cancel a planned grand opening party
due to lack of staffing.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

WAUKESHA — Daylee Public House/Simply Irresistible Catering owner Megan Day didn’t foresee it as an issue.

More than three years after starting the successful catering business, Day eyed opening a new restaurant and bar which specializes in its lunch service. Her intention was to have the grand opening of the Daylee Public House, 453 W. Main Street, in May.

However, a shortage of kitchen staff has led to Day putting off the grand opening event until a later date, though the restaurant and bar is open for appetizers and drinks.

“I didn’t know it’d be this difficult,” Day said of the employee shortage. “I’ve done things in a bit of a different way than most restaurants that would have an opening day or a soft opening; people tend to wait until they’re fully staffed. But I’ve little by little added more things with the help of a few people; there’s a tradition between me and my dad. But other than that, I had no idea it’d be this difficult.”

Day isn’t alone in experiencing the issue, either. It’s been the same problem at Meli Bar & Restaurant, 294 W. Main Street.

Meli co-owner Llazar Konda said since opening a year and a half ago, not only has he experienced a higher-than-usual turnover rate, but also a lack of people applying to work at the restaurant and bar.

“We’re low on staff in general,” Konda said. “It’s unbelievable at times; there’s nothing you can do about it. Some people just don’t take it seriously. I’ve done this for 23 years; I have been a server, a bartender, have worked in kitchens and now own my own place.

“I’ve always been dedicated to this and unfortunately not a lot of people take this seriously. You can make a lot of money by doing it right, you can make a good living with this.”

Employment interest decreasing?

The trend isn’t new to the industry, Wisconsin Restaurant Association President and CEO Ed Lump said.

“It’s been going on for some time,” Lump said. “It’s been more difficult to hire people these days. A lot of the reason is because there’s a labor shortage. It’s not just in our industry, either.

“But this is an industry that needs a lot of people, it requires a lot of people to provide the service people are accustomed to and it is becoming more of a problem.

According to data provided by www.restaurant.org, there were 12,170 businesses to eat and drink at in Wisconsin in 2015. With an estimated 270,200 restaurant and food service jobs in the state this year and new businesses continuing to open, an emphasis has been placed on filling those vacant roles.

But as Day and Konda have found out, it hasn’t been easy.

“The restaurant business is thriving and is doing very well in the state and the country,” Lump said. “The economy is getting better, gas prices are lower and you have more disposable income. People are feeling better, are spending more money and business is up, dates and celebrations are up.

“Some owners have to recognize that and adjust their wage scale to the reality of our economy. It has nothing to do with the law, it’s just that when you have a shorter supply, you pay more for the product.”

Generational difference

Konda said aside from the economic standpoint, part of the problem is some younger employees’ lack of desire to work diligently.

“I think part of it has to do with our society and where we are today,” Konda said. “People take things for granted. I think it has to do with the newer generation. In 22 years, I never missed a shift, never called in, I have been dedicated to make a living off of it.

“I just don’t have an answer, it’s very frustrating. I’ve been here a year and a half and am still looking for staff.”

He added that he has hopes of expanding and opening up new restaurant, but remains wary because of the staffing issues.

Trying to make a change

Day said to try and curb the issue, she’s reached out to culinary students enrolled at schools such as Waukesha County Technical College, Milwaukee Area Technical College and Carroll University to obtain her desired kitchen staff of as many as eight employees.

“When I first opened I had one staff member, which was great in helping get the freezer restocked,” Day said. “Once we felt comfortable and opened the bar, we unveiled some bar snacks. I’ve been more on the mindset on unveiling things little by little and making sure customers are enjoying everything.

“Instead of pushing it, I’m taking a different approach of slowly opening. I want to make sure that I have a solid staff trained.”

Until then, there’s no guarantee when her new restaurant and bar will be fully staffed in the kitchen and fully operational.

“It’s still up in the air until we get a full kitchen, but the sooner the better,” Day said of rescheduling the grand opening.

Email: cbucher@conleynet.com