© 2021 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

A restaurant owner in New Mexico is struggling to keep her businesses staffed

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Throughout the pandemic, we've heard from many Americans about their personal and professional experiences. Myra Ghattas is a boss. She owns three restaurants in Albuquerque, N.M. In one, she serves...

MYRA GHATTAS: Kind of upscale comfort food, comfort food made from scratch, mac and cheese. And we have a BLT made with fried green tomatoes. We do a fish and chips, but it's made with salmon.

SIMON: Myra Ghattas was doing brisk business before March of 2020, when she had to shut all of her restaurants down completely, laying off all 79 of her employees. She's had to keep one restaurant closed. The other two have come back to life slowly.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GHATTAS: In some ways - and I think this applies for more industries than mine. But in some ways, 2021, even though we're on a road to recovery, has been way harder than 2020 was.

SIMON: Myra Ghattas began to extend operating hours. As COVID restrictions lifted, she brought back some of her managers, servers and line cooks. But some workers didn't come back, and it's been hard to fill open positions. That means though the demand is there, Myra Ghattas can't fully open her restaurants. She simply doesn't have enough staff.

GHATTAS: There's a lot of pressure on the team that is in place. We don't have a lot of depth to allow people time off, to allow people a break. We're losing the people that have been here because they're exhausted, fatigued because we're so short-staffed.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GHATTAS: We had two employees that were unable to work over the weekend, which is our busiest time. So I was a line cook all day Saturday, and it allowed us to open and serve guests. It was a nice message to the other employees who were here that I was able to do that, but that's not sustainable.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GHATTAS: And then there's a whole other component of, how are we ever going to get staffed again and operate? I don't know. I don't know the answer to that and if that will change over time or if people in my industry will simply go out of business because we can no longer staff our restaurants.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GHATTAS: The hiring process has been hilarious if you could look at it in a light-hearted manner. We'd post a job, and we get 20 applicants applying for that job, maybe 25. And it's all online. And you review them, and you're like, wow, this is great, and respond to them - can you please come in for an interview? And some of them you call, and you can't get through on the phone. Some of them you email. So out of those 25 of them, maybe you get 15 of them actually respond to your request. Then out of those 15, you schedule interviews. Only eight of them show up for their interview. Then you go through the interview process, and maybe out of those, you extend a job to one or two or three or however many, and they never show up to work.

Even my suppliers, my vendors, they don't have people to drive the trucks. They don't have people in their warehouses. We can't get the supplies that we need. The products aren't the same, or they're more expensive. I think our industry is going to be OK for a short time because there were a lot of federal stimulus dollars that went into hospitality. When that money runs low or short or out, I think we're going to see a lot of small businesses closing down.

SIMON: Myra Ghattas says the staff she's managed to keep are also confronting another challenge in today's restaurant business - some customers.

GHATTAS: A percentage of them, not all of them. There's a lot that are really great and wonderful and supportive. But there's a percentage, a higher percentage than I've ever seen in this industry, that are agitated, angry, frustrated. They don't understand that this is not the same as it was before. They don't understand why things might take longer, why they can't make a reservation or why they can't get seated as quickly as they wanted to or whatever the reason. And so they hit a boiling point much faster, and they take it out on the employees.

Patience is something I'm preaching from the inside and from the outside. So if I go to a restaurant or people go, please be patient, be understanding. And from the inside, too, we also have to be patient and understanding 'cause it's hard for us, too.

SIMON: Myra Ghattas of Albuquerque, N.M.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.