Wisconsin restaurant worker shortage 'complex,' association head says

A Glendale restaurant owner described operating a business 16 months into the COVID-19 pandemic as a "massive challenge."

The Wisconsin Restaurant Association said the hospitality industry is dealing with a perfect storm of issues that hurt area restaurants.

Solly's Grille, known for its mouthwatering butter burger, had to stop serving breakfast until it could hire a cook.

"We’re having a hard time getting employees right now," owner Glenn Fieber said. 

Glenn Fieber

"During the pandemic, a lot of restaurants were forced to lay off a lot of staff," said Kristine Hillmer, president of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association. 

Hillmer said current unemployment benefits are not all to blame.

"While I do admit the extra $300 is having some folks sit on the sidelines, and will have some of them returning to work. It’s really a more complicated and complex reasons than that," Hillmer said.

Hillmer said the hospitality industry in Wisconsin has so far lost 22% of its workforce; during the shutdown, some hospitality workers sought jobs in other industries.

Tourism spots have been disrupted by a lack of seasonal employees who work on visas, Hillmer said – adding that Wisconsin has also had no population growth.

"We don’t have enough adult worker age people to fill the jobs we have," said Hillmer.

On top of all of those factors, restaurants are trying to avoid burning out the employees that they do have while also dealing with supply shortages and ever-changing CDC guidance. And there is something consumers can do to make sure their favorite spots stay open.

"Come in to eat and spend money on good food and that will keep us in business," said Fieber.

And above all, Hillmer said, "Be kind, be patient. Everyone is doing the best job they can."

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