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“It’s just unfortunate”: Restaurant industry faces worker, supply shortages

Published: Oct. 9, 2021 at 10:59 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - New data from the National Restaurant Association shows restaurant sales in Wisconsin are improving since the start of the pandemic, but business operations remain far from normal.

Based on a survey of 4,000 restaurants nationwide, 70 percent of operators think it will be more than a year before everything returns to normal and 11 percent say conditions will never return to how it was before the pandemic.

So, what is driving these statistics? Worker and supply shortages.

For Tom Marks -- a veteran of the restaurant industry and front of house manager at Hop Haus -- the past 13 months have been some of the most challenging in his 25-year career.

“I’m used to having stacks of applications, 30, 40 deep and I can’t even get people to apply for positions right now,” Marks says.

He says issues started to multiply last September, when the brewing company opened its second location in Fitchburg during the thick of the pandemic. Opening at 25 percent capacity was a challenge, but when capacity limits increased, so did the problems; namely, a lack of staff to keep up with demand.

“There is definitely a worker shortage out there; we are definitely experiencing it,” says Marks. “We have a beautiful rooftop patio on top and half the time I can’t even open it. it’s just unfortunate.”

Kristine Hillmer, President at CEO of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, says restaurant operators don’t expect things to get back to normal any time soon. In fact, she says 38 percent of operators statewide say their business conditions are worse now than they were three months ago.

That’s because the worker shortage is coupled with supply shortages.

“You have a shortage of truck drivers in order to deliver not only from the ports manufacturers or the suppliers, but then from the suppliers to the restaurant, so we’re seeing huge disruptions, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon,” says Hillmer.

For Hop Haus this has meant trouble getting construction materials for the second location and cans for their in-house brews.

It may be a while before things get better. In the meantime, both marks and Hillmer ask customers to be patient and kind.

“I just want people to go out to small business like ours and support us, that’s for sure,” says Marks.

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