Staffing shortages at local businesses lead some to reduce hours or close

Gracelyn Stitzel prepares a drink at the bar at Tano Bistro Thursday, April 21, 2022 in Hamilton. Tano is one of many restaurants that have limited days open due to staffing issues. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

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Gracelyn Stitzel prepares a drink at the bar at Tano Bistro Thursday, April 21, 2022 in Hamilton. Tano is one of many restaurants that have limited days open due to staffing issues. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Owners and managers face daily question of who will show up to work

Having to close unexpectedly for a day earlier this month wasn’t a one-time thing for Deli Creations in Hamilton.

The closure on April 14 has happened three or four times previously, where a staff member would either call off, not show up or quit, said Kelly Sherrill, who owns the deli on Northwest Washington Boulevard with her husband, Rick.

She needs a couple of employees just so other employees can get a day off without having to close the restaurant.

Nationwide, restaurant operators expect the labor shortage to continue at least through this year, according to the 2022 State of the Restaurant Industry report. More than half of adults (51%) say they are not eating at restaurants as often as they’d want, which is a 6% increase from before the pandemic, according to the report.

More than half of restaurant operators say it could be a year, or more, before business conditions return to normal. Food, labor and rent costs are anticipated to be high, continuing to impact profit margins, according to the report.

Having to close because there’s not enough staff is “absolutely” tiring,” Sherill said. “I don’t know any restaurant or small business owner who are not (tired of the shortage).”

Monica Nenni, co-owner of Bandanas Italian Restaurant in Middletown, said they never had to make a decision to close or change their hours due to staffing shortages.

“Rather, we limited our seating and sometimes had to suspend carryout orders in an effort not to overwhelm our staff and disappoint our customers,” she said. “We have been very lucky that our core employees have been willing to take on more responsibility and work overtime to make up for the shortages, the credit really goes to them.”

The excitement of spring follows encouraging news from the most recent Ohio Restaurant Association Business Impact Poll results.

In January, operators said 49% of their restaurants were operating with normal hours, but that number increased in February when 58% of restaurants said they’d operate at normal hours over the next month.

“As sunnier days and better weather approach, we are hopeful this upward trend will surge in the coming months,” according to the report.

The ORA is looking ahead “with optimism” as restaurants continue to face a labor shortage and rising food costs compared to a year ago. Forty-one percent of survey respondents report an 11% to 20% increase in food costs, and overall, the industry is facing 40-year highs in annual increases.

“For an industry with profit margins between 3% and 6%, soaring labor and food costs create a daily struggle for operators, so please be understanding if you see menu prices increasing,” according to the report.

Some restaurants don’t open every day of the week because of staffing shortages.

Tano Bistro, 150 Riverfront Plaza in Hamilton, is closed Sundays and Mondays. General manager Tyler McCleary said he’d love to have his restaurant open seven days a week, but can’t.

“We want to make sure they’re not overworked, they’re happy, that they’re heard and they’re really enjoying themselves,” said McCleary. “I don’t want to talk about opening on six and seven days if the five days we are open isn’t going 100 percent. We’ve been very intentional on adding quality people and expanding with the growth of our staff. I don’t want to stretch them too thin.”

But having restaurants, as well as bars, are important to a community, McCleary said, whose also a founding member of the Hamilton Amusement and Hospitality Association. While personally he’s made connections in the hospitality industry he’d never had made in any other industry, he said, restaurants and bars are often a person’s “third place.”

“People leaned on restaurants during the pandemic, which is why they are an important part of the community,” he said. “All your restaurants are just the third place to gather to have a good time and take a load off.”