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Many Central, South Coasts Restaurants Report Unexpected Pandemic Related Impact: Difficulties In Finding Experienced Employees

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(Photo by John Palminteri)
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Santa Barbara's Chase Restaurant has a sign outside trying to attract hard to come by employees

But, some say business is booming

It’s a busy Saturday night at the Chase Restaurant, in downtown Santa Barbara. It’s been serving up Italian dishes for more than four decades. It’s survived the pandemic when some restaurants in the region didn’t.

The issue last year was doing enough business to stay open. Now, like many other restaurants, the new challenge is finding enough staff.

Warren Butler is a well known restaurateur in the region who’s been managing the Chase.

There are a number of issues contributing to the problem. Early on in the pandemic, many workers lost jobs, or had their hours cut when restaurants had to be takeout-only. Then, when they reopened for in-person service, some were worried about safety. And, others had child care issues with kids suddenly doing remote learning from home. And, some found they could make nearly as much on enhanced unemployment as they did working.

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Butler says with business picking up, and full reopening around the corner, there’s a scramble on to find qualified workers. He says they've given some past employees who didn't work out a second chance, and have hired some people with no experience as trainees.

Some Santa Barbara restaurants and bars say there are times several people will respond to a help wanted ad, but only one or two will actually show up for interviews. Many of those being hired are new to the business.

Samatha Forrester of Goleta is a new hostess at Chase. She says she's only been there three days, and had no restaurant experience, but loves it.

Shaun Ritter started at the restaurant in 2019. He went back home to the Midwest to help his father run a family business last year, but is back in Santa Barbara once again working at the Chase. He says he likes working there, and knew the restaurant needed experienced help.

Butler says having extra outdoor seating due to the pandemic is not only boosting business, they are now on track to do better than they did in pre-pandemic 2019.

Many in the restaurant business say with the state fully reopening things June 15th, the arrival of tourist season, and added outdoor seating capacity, it could be a huge summer season. But, they say it means finding, and keeping the staff they need to meet the demand.