Philadelphia restaurateur Stephen Starr has not been immune to the worker shortages plaguing the restaurant industry as patrons return to dining out.
Starr owns 35 restaurants in Philadelphia and other cities. Some of his most popular Philly restaurants are Parc, El Vez and Morimoto.
The restaurant group is struggling to fill positions across the board, including servers, kitchen staff and managers, he told NBC10 Wednesday in an interview.
“People want to come out, they want to eat, they want to drink, they want to be happy," Starr said. "The problem is we can’t find the people to work.”
This has forced him to get creative -- even turning to a social media recruitment campaign using memes.
Starr Restaurants are also offering signing bonuses and higher compensation to lure people in.
But as restaurants pay more for labor, it means the cost could eventually get passed on to the consumer. Margins are already thin and the price of food has skyrocketed, Starr said.
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“We’re trying to hold the prices. But some of our dishes are at 80% food cost," Starr said. "We can only do that for a little while before we’re going to have to start charging people $44 for a breast of chicken and some vegetable."
While unemployment compensation is likely one factor in the worker shortage, Starr said he believes there is something bigger going on.
Nearly 6,000 people in Pennsylvania with jobs in the restaurant and eatery business filed for unemployment in the beginning of July, according to the state's Department of Labor and Industry.
But Starr thinks it's likely that the COVID-19 pandemic has led people to reassess what they want to do and take the summer off.
"We’re hoping that after September, people settle down. They’ve had a nice summer. They lived through a very bad pandemic," Starr said. "So it’s understandable, once the summer comes if you save some money, [to say] 'I’m taking the summer off and then after Labor Day, I gotta get serious and come back to work. '”
Starr is holding out hope, especially as some of his restaurants are forced to remain closed for brunch and lunch due to staff shortages.
“There’s a lot of hope," Starr said. "There’s a big light at the end of the tunnel.”