QUINCY, Mass – Business is booming at the Liberty Tavern in Quincy Center, but a problem is looming behind the scenes.
“It was great that the restrictions are gradually easing. We’re starting to get more people vaccinated and we’re feeling good when we walk through the door, ”said owner Nick Palermo. “Unfortunately, the biggest problem we have right now is finding enough people to take care of these guests.”
Palermo said it was frustrating to be understaffed as business picks up again.
“It’s a defeat because you want to be able to accommodate everyone who walks through the door,” said Palermo. “You come back to a certain point where you can have a certain capacity, but can we fill every table because we have enough staff to take care of it?”
Palermo is not alone.
Evviva Trattoria has locations in Wrentham, Westford, Marlborough and Maynard. General manager Charles Belanger told Boston 25 News that they are understaffed in all of their restaurants.
“We’re all looking up and down,” said Belanger. “Managers to dishwashers.”
Massachusetts Restaurant Association president Bob Luz told Boston 25 News the problem is widespread.
“This is a crisis from Boston to Pittsfield, Newburyport to Provincetown and everywhere in between,” Luz said. “There is currently no restaurant that is almost fully occupied.”
Where did all the workers go?
“It’s a result of two things,” explained Luz. “First, when we laid off 255,000 people [restaurant workers] Last March, many of them honestly found work in various industries and decided to stay there. Second, we have people who have decided that between Massachusetts unemployment benefits – the highest in the country – and federal unemployment benefits, they make more to sit at home than they work. “
Restaurant owners told Boston 25 News it was frustrating to finally open and the staff not making sure things were going smoothly.
“The busier you get, the more manpower you need,” said Belanger. “You cannot wear people who are too thin for you, your guests will suffer.”
“I’m afraid for the entire gastronomy,” said Palermo. “Hopefully there is a little more drive and incentive for people to get back to work and hold their own in this industry.”
Many restaurant owners try to stay optimistic and look to the good side of the shortage.
“I think it’s an opportunity for us to diversify our workforce and provide opportunities for some communities that still have high unemployment and don’t have many high-paying jobs available,” said Luz.
While restaurants across the board are struggling to find staff, they are the lucky ones.
Almost one in four restaurants in all of Massachusetts closed permanently during the pandemic.
“There were 16,000 restaurants in Massachusetts as of March 1, 2020,” Luz said. “When we reopened outside at the end of June, 3,400 restaurants never opened again. So that’s 23 percent less. “