Restaurant recovery hits slowdown with staffing still under pre-pandemic levels

Restaurant employment levels continued to rise last month but have reached a slowdown, according to the National Restaurant Association.

The organization reports as a result of the recent slowdown, restaurant staffing levels remain 2.1 million jobs below pre-pandemic levels. According to data from the National Restaurant Association, one in six restaurants has closed, hindering employment in the industry.

"Maybe 150,000 to 200,000 restaurants are predicted to have closed are not going to reopen, so that’s one major issue there,” said Dr. Kevin Murphy, University of Central Florida Professor of Hospitality.

Dr. Murphy says Florida has fared slightly better than the rest of the country because there are fewer restrictions. However, some of Orlando’s top employers still have not brought back a number of foodservice jobs.

“As you know, the convention center is not operating, theme parks are not operating at full capacity,” he said.

Restaurants like Soco in Thornton Park are on the road to recovery, though some of its neighbors have closed. Executive Chef and Partner Greg Richie says, fortunately, the business has been slowly increasing.

“We’ve seen a steady increase,” he said. “It got incrementally better and then we kind of plateaued at the beginning of last month.”

Chef Richie is leaning on innovation to make sure he fully recovers. The business owner has not had to cut staff at the restaurant.

"We would do takeout meals, we even set out on the corner, the bar for to-go drinks,” he laughed. “We were making tacos street side, we were making omelets for brunch take-away, anything we could.”

The chef remains optimistic. His latest project involves to-go Thanksgiving meals. The restaurant is even hiring servers, bartenders, and hosts.

"I think once the dust settles, we’re going to be better than ever before, it just might take a little bit of time to get there."