90% of MI restaurants are short-staffed, most against mask mandates


Sue Selasky

Detroit Free Press

The help wanted signs in the restaurant and hospitality industries have been around for months. Operators of these businesses have been struggling with a lack of workers.

And a new survey from the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association (MRLA) confirms it with 9 in 10 restaurant operators saying they do not have enough staff to meet consumer demand.

The statewide survey included responses from Michigan restaurant and hotel operators. Nearly all banquet facilities and every hotel, according to the survey, does not have enough staff.

It has been more than a month since state health officials lifted COVID-19 restrictions. The MRLA conducted the survey Aug. 3-6 to determine the “challenges and opportunities” facing the industry.

“Restaurant and hotel operators are trying to meet consumer demand that exceeds 2019 with 100,000 fewer workers and skyrocketing labor and commodity prices,” Justin Winslow, MRLA President and CEO said in a statement.

Hospitality industry operators also reported facing significant commodity price increases, paying higher wages, and offering financial incentives.

Due to some by products of the pandemic, restaurants are finding it difficult to fill positions. Mootz Pizzaria and Bar in Detroit advertises on a sandwich board out on the sidewalk for help on May 4, 2021.

Higher commodity prices also translate to pushing costs to consumers. On Wednesday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its Consumer Price Index report for July. The report revealed that the cost of food away from home is up 4.6% over the last 12 months.

On indoor mask mandates, only 28% support the recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, saying it creates “a safer and more stable environment in which to operate.”

The more than 70% who oppose the guidelines say they do so because it will “reignite an environment of fear that will negatively impact my business.”

Key survey findings include:

  • Wages: 95% of restaurants and hotels have increased wages in 2021. Half increased them by more than 10%. More than 70% have increased schedule flexibility to appeal to prospective employees, while half have offered financial incentives.
  • Hours: Nearly 80% of restaurant and hotel operators reported closing early or for specific times because of inadequate staffing levels. For full-service restaurants, that figure exceeds 85%.
  • Capacity: 81% of hotels are limiting room inventory because they do not have adequate staffing to turn them over for new guests.
  • Inflation: Nearly all respondents reported inflation of commodities this year, with half reporting price increases greater than 10%.
  • COVID-19: 28% support recent CDC guidelines recommending masks indoors because it will “create a safer and more stable environment in which to operate” while 72% opposed because it will “reignite an environment of fear that will negatively impact my business.”
  • Vaccines: 73% would oppose a New York City-style mandate requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter most indoor establishments including restaurants and hotels.

Winslow noted that most restaurants and hotels did not receive federal or state aid during the “darkest days of the pandemic.” Nearly two-thirds of respondents said more relief from Congress is needed for the hospitality industry.

Server Tiffani Cox cleans a table at Mallie’s Sports Grill & Bar in Southgate on May 4, 2021.

“The existential challenges for the hospitality industry are not yet behind it, which is why it is so important for the Michigan Legislature and Gov. Whitmer to come together on a deal in September that prioritizes the hospitality industry in yet-to-be-appropriated federal relief dollars. And why Congress should see fit to pass the Save Hotel Jobs Act and secure a second round of funding for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.”

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