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Arizona restaurants dealing with unexpected staffing shortages; some reducing hours and menus

Serranos Restaurant Dining Room.jpg
Posted at 5:50 PM, Apr 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-06 17:07:02-04

PHOENIX — As more people are going out and about and eating at bars, breweries, and restaurants, those places are busier than they've been in a while -- and with an industry-wide staffing shortage, some owners are warning that the trickle-down effect could mean longer wait times for diners, reduced hours of operations, or trimmed menus.

It's already happening at a few places in the Valley.

Serrano's Mexican Restaurants, which has five restaurants in the East Valley, recently announced that it would temporarily close all of its restaurants on Mondays, partly to give its current staff another day to rest and because they do not have enough staff to cover the entire dining room. They're already closed on Sundays to allow staff to rest, worship, or spend time with family.

"We're so short-handed across the board that we were dealt whether or not to close one location and move all of our resources, all of our help, to our other locations to fill these spots or to close one more day. So we decided to close one more day," said CEO and President Ric Serrano.

He said he's short people at all of his locations from kitchen staff to servers to managers.

At Saddle Mountain Brewing in Goodyear, they recently had to close for a day because there was not enough staff that day to fully open.

"We opened at 11 for service and by 10:30 a.m., I did not have enough people to run service from the back of house," said Laura Hansen, owner of Saddle Mountain Brewing.

She has also removed some items from the menu because she doesn't have enough people to do the amount of prep work it takes, but also to give her current staff -- who is already stressed, understaffed, and overworked -- a bit of a break.

Ninety percent of the menu is made and prepared in the kitchen, she said, from making the pizza dough to baking it in the oven to blending the beef for burgers to portioning out pastrami for sliders and for sandwiches.

"I don't want that to be a permanent solution. I want the people to be in my kitchen so we can offer everything we want to offer here," she said.

But, with reducing the menu, she has seen an increase in morale among her staff.

"They're trying to do the job of two people in a lot of instances and so we did see that kind of lifting of morale and lightheartedness that kind of came back," she said.

In downtown Chandler, JINYA Ramen Bar, a California-based Japanese restaurant, recently opened its doors. But a few weeks ago, franchise owner Daradee Olson wasn't sure when she was going to be able to open because she didn't have enough people to hire and train.

"With less people, less servers, less people in the back of the house cooking, we can’t produce that much food to keep up with the guests coming in," Olson told ABC15 at the time on the potential impact.

Melissa Maggiore, who recently opened The Italian Daughter in north Scottsdale, told ABC15 that she held a two-day job fair and had one person show up.

"It's been extremely tough," she said.

"I think really talented people left our industry because they were afraid of what COVID had done to us and they needed to support their family, and the instability was too much for them," she said. "I think some people might still be afraid to come back out because of COVID and are waiting to see if this upward, ya know the wave that we're on right now, which is positive, continues before they start making decisions about coming back to work."

With fewer people working, it also impacts the overall service that restaurants strive to provide.

Despite having tables that appear open and clean, Ric Serrano said sometimes his staff has to make customers wait in the lobby.

"It's because we don't have the staff and we would rather them wait up front, then to have to come in, sit down, and then we double the time what it would normally take," he said.

And it's a challenge that, despite all of the challenges restaurants and small businesses have faced over the last year, was unexpected, according to Steve Chucri, CEO and president of the Arizona Restaurant Association.

"If you asked me back then would we have a labor shortage? I would tell you, it'd be the exact opposite. It's not just here in Arizona, it's across the country," he told ABC15 in a recent interview.

Chucri said he believes there are a handful of reasons why people haven't returned to work: unemployment benefits with the additional CARES Act funding are keeping people financially sustained, especially as Arizona heads into the summer months, which is typically slower for the hospitality industry; some people who were laid off at the height of the pandemic needed to find work elsewhere and left the industry altogether, or left the state.


"Good restaurants are always hiring, but we're panic hiring now," Laura Hansen, owner of Saddle Mountain Brewing Company, said.

In recent weeks, ABC15 has highlighted a number of restaurants and bars with open positions during our "We're Open, Arizona" series.

That includes Chompie's, Thai Chili 2 Go, Lovecraft Ale House, CRUjiente Tacos and The Italian Daughter, all of whom are hiring front and back of house positions, from dishwashers to servers to prep cooks.

Kind Hospitality, which now owns Macayo's and Barrio Brewing, has 100 open positions across all of its restaurants including management, front of house and back of house positions.

A number of positions are being advertised on restaurants' Facebook and Instagram pages.

Some are even trying to incentivize workers to return to work with increased wages or sign-on bonuses.

Tempe-based Pedal Haus, which has locations in Tempe and Chandler and two more coming to Phoenix and Mesa, said it offering a $250 bonus to new hires after 30 days, a six-month bonus, and a bonus after a year.