Help wanted: Bay Area hospitality industry facing shortage as demand increases

Hotels and restaurants in the Bay Area are facing a severe shortage of employees and struggling to keep up as more people are choosing to vacation and eat a meal at a restaurant.

Hospitality was perhaps the hardest hit industry at the start of the pandemic and now restaurants and bars are hiring -- but many people are not applying. Owners are trying to figure out how to entice workers to even come in for an interview.

Those "help wanted" signs are going unanswered, and some are even offering signing bonuses to come on board. A McDonald’s in Tampa made recent headlines for offering $50 to anyone who would come in for an interview.

Restaurants, hotels, and bars are in competition over the same small pool of workers, which, in turn, is driving wages up. 

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In Pinellas County alone, there is a need for 35,000 service industry workers.

Ferg’s Sports Bar in St. Petersburg, across from Tropicana Field, has been slammed during the Tampa Bay Rays’ home games, they are down by 10 people.

"We tell people, ‘Hold tight,’" explained the owner, Mark Ferguson. "We’ll get to you and we’ll take good care of you."

Many in the industry say with workers receiving unemployment, there’s little incentive to go back to work right now. 

"You know what are the solutions? Why are we short-staffed?" asked John Lulgjuraj, owner of Oceanside Beach Bar and Grill. "That’s the number question. I pointed out unemployment because that’s the general consensus."

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"Because of the government’s stimulus for unemployment, a lot of those employees are deciding to take that versus working jobs because they can make more money on unemployment versus working," said Virgil Morar, who owns Monterey Grill in Port Orange.

But that alone doesn’t exactly explain the full phenomenon. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment numbers hit their peak at 13.9% in the Bay Area in April 2020.

Those figures have since fallen to 4.2%, only slightly above pre-pandemic levels. Many hospitality workers have moved on, finding work in other sectors.