Lowcountry restaurants struggle to meet growing demand amid staffing shortage

Lowcountry restaurants struggle to meet growing demand amid staffing shortage
For now, the burden has been put on existing employees to keep up with a growing number of tourists visiting the Lowcountry. (Source: Live 5)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Restaurants are getting busier by the day, but many owners say they are struggling to find the staff needed to meet the demand.

“Just last month, we had our 15-year anniversary,” Sapphire’s owner Mike Szews said. “And this has been about the toughest it’s been employee wise.”

In a post on Facebook and in signs posted on his front doors, Szews called for patience and compassion from his restaurant’s patrons.

“Our wait times are extremely long,” Szews said. “We tell everyone right up front what the estimated time for a meal to come out for them and if it’s too long for them they can move on and do what they want.”

Amid the struggle to find more employees, Szews said his restaurant’s wait times can range from 15 to 90 minutes for food. It’s an issue shared by many across the food and beverage industry in the Lowcountry.

“Pretty much everyone I talk to is looking for staff,” Queen Street Hospitality CEO Jonathan Kish said. “Finding applicants has become a challenge. We are looking at every avenue we can whether that’s Facebook, Craigslist, word of mouth, Indeed, or putting a sign on the street just trying to find people.”

For now, the burden has been put on existing employees to keep up with a growing number of tourists visiting the Lowcountry.

“We’re definitely running what we can with less people and worried about burning out our folks who we have and trying to keep them happy,” Kish said. “We have less people to produce food, serve food and answer the phones so, we are asking for patience from our customers.”

On Wednesday, April 7, Explore Charleston and the Lowcountry Hospitality Association are hosting a hospitality-only job fair at the North Charleston Coliseum.

The first 100 people hired during the event are eligible for a $500 bonus.

Over 40 employers with locations from Summerville to the islands will participate. There will be job openings for all skill levels, including part-time and full-time positions. Employers from hotels, resorts, and food and beverage businesses will be represented. Organizers said, to ensure coronavirus precautions are in place, the job fair will be held outdoors and socially-distanced. The event is free and open to the public.

“Our visitor industry is rebounding from the pandemic faster than anticipated, which is great news. The challenge is that many hotels and restaurants are faced with an acute shortage of employees,” Helen Hill, CEO of Explore Charleston, said. “This event is a unique opportunity for people to learn about the exciting jobs and careers available with some of the most impressive hospitality-related businesses in the industry.”

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