By Tori Mason

DENVER (CBS4)– According to the Colorado Restaurant Association, nine out of 10 restaurants are struggling to hire staff. The hospitality industry is welcoming swarms of guests after a year of COVID-19 restrictions, but the patrons are coming back faster than workers. The CRA launched a job board to simplify the hiring process.

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“Restaurants can’t really begin to truly recover until they’re back up at 100% capacity and if they don’t have a full staff, they’re not going to be able to get to 100% capacity,” explained Sonia Riggs, CRA President and CEO.

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Potential candidates can search for opportunities by location, position, job status and shift. Riggs says the slow return of restaurant workers following the pandemic could be due to a number of things.

“We see enhanced unemployment benefits. We see people who are concerned about going back to work if they still haven’t been fully vaccinated. We are seeing childcare issues. There are folks who left the industry altogether,” said Riggs.

A recent survey conducted by the CRA showed that 95% of restaurants have increased wages and 21% have expanded their benefits packages in order to attract and retain talent.

Rita Price, the owner of Rita’s Law in Five Points, doesn’t have the funds to offer incentives.

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“I wish, but I’m really just trying to be authentic and show people that this is a great place to work,” said Price. “When I pushed my first ‘I’m hiring’ I thought, here we go! I thought it was going to be insane. I checked my mailbox and it was like two resumes. It’s a really hard place to be for a business owner.”

With nearly all COVID restrictions gone, many customers are returning in hopes of seeing the bar they knew and loved. However, staff shortages have changed the quality of service in many favorite spots.

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“People want the greatest service and the greatest everything, but everybody’s struggling. We want to give you that, but now we don’t have enough people. Please bear with us,” said Price. “I don’t want the amazing staff that I do have to burn out because they work too much.”

Steuben’s Uptown is hiring every position from servers to cooks. Jobs are posted online, but they’re also offering $150 to employees who bring candidates in.

“We offer a great living wage. It’s an average of $20 an hour and also a 3% sales weekly bonus for back of house employees as well. That’s based off our total sales of the week, and they get split up to the team,” said Thach Tran, Executive Chef.

Tran says the restaurant has to get creative and lean toward dishes that cost less to produce.

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“We’re careful of the selection we’re putting on our menu. That way we can really operate well with the labor and the rising of food costs,” said Tran.

Both Tran and Price still say quality and customer service is the priority, despite the challenge of fewer staff and rising costs. They both say they’re willing to train and take on employees without much restaurant experience. In the meantime, they hope customers will understand their rebuilding process post-COVID.

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“If you’re waiting too long for a table, it is because the restaurant is a little bit short-staffed and operating a little bit slower than normal. Please be a little bit patient and hopefully their servers will take care of you and let you know what’s happening. We’ll do our best to make sure that you’re enjoying your time out,” said Tran.

Tori Mason