Recruitment struggles in the restaurant industry


KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Finding help has been difficult for several places we eat and drink in Kansas City.

From reduced hours to closing on certain days, to buying a robot to run the food, some restaurants are looking for ways to circumvent staff shortages.

As the number of jobs continued to grow in the industry last month, a National Restaurant Association survey shows that half of restaurant owners surveyed said finding and keeping enough employees was their biggest challenge in July.

KSHB 41 takes this story 360, speaking to:

  • Past and present servers
  • Dinners
  • The Restaurant Association of Greater Kansas City
  • Restaurants are trying to adapt


At Waldo Pizza, they may start with flour for the perfect pie, but it’s so much more than just making dough. Even when you have all the ingredients, no matter how you cut it, you still need enough staff to serve it.

“It’s just an ongoing battle,” said general manager Aaron Kanatzar. “We’ll be looking at around 100 applications and maybe four people working here, and we’re lucky if all four stay for a month.”

So they decided to close on Tuesdays.

“It was a way to give our staff a break and not overwork them and take care of the people we have right now,” he said.

Lindsay Shivly

Waldo Pizza hopes to reopen on Tuesdays in the fall, but for now they continue to have open talks on those days.

“People want to eat and it’s hard to feed everyone when you don’t have enough people,” he said.

In Grandview, hopeful customers found a sign on the door of Housewife saying the restaurant would be closed that day ‘due to a staff shortage’ and thanking customers for their support.

“I thought it was over,” said Cédric Thomason, who came to eat. “I had no idea there was still a problem with the staff.”

Dennis and Susan Olla were disappointed, but not necessarily surprised.

“Kindly seen this a few other places before, so we’re not totally shocked,” Dennis said.

At Sayachi in the Brookside neighborhood, you’ll find sushi delicately prepared by a skilled sushi chef who doesn’t hand it to a food runner, but puts that sushi on a talking robot to deliver it to diners.

Owner Carols Falcon admits it was an investment, but he says it pays off in his recruitment struggles. He said staffing was his biggest issue with Sayachi and his other Jarocho restaurants.

When we first spoke to Falcon earlier this summer, we asked how many people were working at its three restaurants in March 2020.

“I would say probably like 50. Right now we’re running places with maybe 20 at most,” he said. “Less than half.”

He said he was recently able to hire three people. Yet to keep things running, he jumped in to serve or wash dishes when needed. From reducing hours or even days, the restaurant is open to trying to offer more balance to employees.

“A lot of people want to have a career in this and so for those people we’re able to provide insurance and 401k and things like that,” he said.

The robot is another way he’s trying to adapt that gives him and his current employees a bit of freedom. Freedom, he says, to manage a reduced staff even on busy nights. Servers can take more tables with the help of the robot and hopefully make more money.

When asked if Falcon was in a sustainable location with his restaurants, he replied, “Yes and no. Yes for a week or two, for a month, but afterwards there is always… there is always the lag.

When asked what Falcon would like diners to know when they go out to eat right now, he simply replied, “Just be nice.”

The Restaurant Association of Greater Kansas City:

“Less table service, faster delivery,” said Bill Teel of the Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association.

These are just some of the permanent changes he said we could see as some Kansas City-area restaurants struggle to hire enough staff.

“Staffing remains the number one issue and many managers have to work twice as hard. Managers sometimes have to wash dishes and bus tables. »

The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that food services and drinking places created 74,000 jobs in the United States in July. That builds on several months of improvement, but it’s still 635,000 jobs below February 2020.

Their data shows that leisure and hospitality have recovered 7 million jobs since April 2020 and are still down 1.2 million since February 2020, leaving more ground to catch up than several other industries they track.

It also shows that from June people quit their jobs in accommodation and food services at a higher rate than other industries.

“A lot of them have moved on to different new industries. I’ve heard anecdotally that a lot of restaurant workers have gone into the construction industry,” Teel said. is slow to improve.”


Tyler Smith, a server at Sayachi, just returned to work at the restaurant this year after leaving just months after the pandemic began.

“Just anxiety, I wanted to get away from it all. It just wasn’t the same serving take-out tables, just like that. So it was time to make a change, from the point from a mental health standpoint, it was really necessary,” Smith said.

While he loved his new 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule, he says he made the decision to return to the industry because “money is better served and bartender.”

However, he does not plan to stay long term.

“I would be surprised in the next five to ten years if I keep doing it.”

He adds that he doesn’t mind working with a robot.

“It fills a void, 100%,” he said. “Everyone is looking. I don’t know of a single place that’s comfortable with its staff right now.

Smith says he thinks in the past there were more people taking shifts than there are now.

“They are reassessing what they want for life. $100 or $200 extra a week just isn’t worth it for time away from family,” he said.


Putting family first is why teacher Annie Mitchell said she quit her second job as a waiter months before the pandemic hit.

“It just took a lot of my kids’ time. I was working late at night so I decided it wasn’t worth it anymore,” she said. “Honestly, my husband and I have been talking about it, we’re like, where are these people going who quit smoking?”

Park University sent us information from Dr. Nicolas Miceli, Associate Professor of Management/Human Resources, who said our tight labor market means competition for labor is high. It also included people having more choices and being able to accept jobs they preferred or with better pay or conditions.

David Mannon and Leah Kappeas said they haven’t been back to dinner in person for a long time.

“To really enjoy and have like a real date…it’s been a few months,” Kappeas said.

They say that even though they really had great service, they notice a difference from before the pandemic.

“Longer wait times because there’s more takeout,” they said. “I think people are very fusional and then also very distant.”

When Mitchell goes out, she always sees him through the eyes of a waiter.

“I usually try to tip more than 20% at this point because if you pay attention you can tell the waiters, waiters, are serving multiple tables, maybe not even in their own section, so I can sympathize,” she said.

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Cecil N. Messick