RENO, Nev. (News 4 & Fox 11) —
All around midtown and downtown Reno, "We're Hiring" and "Help Wanted" signs plaster the windows of restaurants like a form of new wave art.
Unlike the many murals in the area, the words on these signs don't portray much optimism.
On job sites like Indeed.com and Facebook, countless postings for restaurant jobs in Reno and the surrounding areas with "Urgently hiring" noted in the descriptions.
Some might think it signals a growing workforce rising out of the ashes of the pandemic, but the underlying issues of these employment needs are widespread, both in Nevada and around the country.
Truckee Bagel Company on South Virginia Street boasts three "Help Wanted" signs around its red brick building. But the lights are off and the doors are locked.
A separate sign posted on the main entrance reads, in part, "We regret to inform you that we are temporarily suspending operations at TBC Midtown. The store will be shut down April 29th and will reopen on June 1st."
Dialing the shop's phone number takes you to a voicemail with a similar message:
We're sorry to miss you during this time. We sure appreciate your support and understanding while we take time to focus on hiring and training.
Ann Quinn, the owner of Truckee Bagel Company in both midtown and Galena, is frustrated.
"We've experienced a massive turnover in our business. And we've been actively recruiting and hiring for anywhere between five and 10 positions for almost 45 days now," said Quinn, exasperated. "So it's been a challenge to get people—number one—to show up for interviews, but then also to actually show up and start. We'll extend job offers to folks and they just don't show up."
Quinn was forced to shutter her midtown location because she couldn't properly staff it. She's hoping the closure will give her enough time to find employees.
"The biggest frustration has been not being able to be there for our customers. You know, our customer demand has never been higher," she said.
After a tough year of COVID-19 closures, restrictions, and capacity limits, Quinn said her business ended 2020 on a strong note. But now, she sees this new hurdle of staffing trouble and retention as a hard pill to swallow.
"It's kind of surprising. I wouldn't have pictured a year ago that this would be the scenario we're in, where customers want our product and I can't even meet the demand because I can't keep enough staff," said Quinn.
Managers at Peg's Glorified Ham n Eggs on S. Sierra St. and Pine State Biscuits on S. Center St. express similar challenges. They said they've had "Help Wanted" and "Now Hiring" signs posted for months trying to fill a number of positions.
Churrasco Brazilian Steakhouse in midtown has a large banner on the front of its restaurant, "Now Hiring! Apply in person M-F 2:30-5PM."
In Carson City, right across from the Nevada State Legislature, Mom and Pop's Diner had a sign posted on its door Tuesday: "Closed Tuesdays. We can not find kitchen help to work. As most people know, when you're getting more money on unemployment than when you work, why work?! Sorry, Owners of mom and pops."
It's an issue not just tied to small businesses. The Grand Sierra Resort and Atlantis Casino Resort both share similar struggles.
In a statement to News 4, the GSR said:
GSR finds the job market extremely challenging and continues to increase wages and incentives for a myriad of open positions within our property.
Chira Pagidi, the Director of Food and Beverage at the Atlantis, said in a phone call that he can't even fill the positions for his high-end restaurants where servers take home good amounts of money each day.
He expressed frustration with the unemployment benefits people have been receiving, believing they are playing a big part in the hiring challenge. Pagidi said they've also increased their incentives and wages in an attempt to lure workers back.
It's a trend seen across the country. According to the National Restaurant Association, over 175,000 restaurant jobs were added in March, but that doesn't necessarily mean workers are filling those positions.
In Nevada, restaurant employment was still down 10% to 14.9% in March 2021 compared to Feb. 2020, before the pandemic, despite adding jobs.
"When it comes to recruiting workforce, in January, 8% of restaurant operators rated recruitment and retention of workforce as their top challenge; by April that number had risen to 57%," said the Association in a statement sent to News 4.
They also said restaurants will only see a greater need for employees as weather warms, state restrictions are lifted, and restaurant traffic increases.
With fewer people in the workforce, the stimulus supports still in place, worker safety concerns, the need for caregivers to remain at home, and much greater competition with other industries for workers, operators are returning to pre-pandemic recruitment techniques for hiring.
These recruitment techniques include higher hourly pay rates, more benefits, and professional development opportunities. Methods much like what GSR and Atlantis in Reno are already trying to utilize.
Bottom line, the National Restaurant Association said it comes down to localities and their market forces, both in terms of COVID-19 restrictions and incentives to bring the workforce back.
Washoe County recently approved its reopening plan allowing for 100% capacity for all dining establishments as long as social distancing requirements can be met.
The Nevada Restaurant Association doesn't have exact figures for northern Nevada at this time, but sent News 4 a statement speaking "anecdotally." The NvRA maintains a dose of optimism in their restaurant hiring outlook:
Northern Nevada restaurants are experiencing the same issues as the rest of the state. Across the state and even nationally we are seeing a workforce shortage as well as difficulty in maintaining current staffing levels. We believe that the labor force will return as the industry moves towards recovery, however it is worth noting that restaurants are still operating at limited capacity so until we are fully reopened, we cannot expect to return to pre pandemic employment levels.