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Hiring A Top Concern As CT Restaurants Prepare For Full Capacity

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Jesse Costa
/
WBUR

Starting Friday, Connecticut will no longer limit capacity at local restaurants — so long as they maintain customers 6 feet apart and enforce mask wearing. The eased restriction won’t mean restaurants will return to a full house just yet, but it’s a glimmer of hope for the industry after the pandemic shuttered several businesses. 

But as restaurateurs around the state prepare for the near future, they’re finding a new obstacle: staffing. 

 

“There has definitely been a decrease in the amount of people looking for work. For a multitude of reasons whether they have loved ones who are immunocompromised and they can’t risk it or their own personal hesitancy,” said Juan Reyes, the General Manager at Mecha in West Hartford. 

 

The Asian-inspired restaurant opened late summer 2020 and joined its other locations in New Haven, Fairfield, Norwalk and Stamford. 

 

In the last two weeks, Reyes ramped up hiring efforts for the upcoming summer season — a promising time last year which helped many restaurants stay afloat due to outside seating opportunities.  

 

“Right now the hiring needs is more about making sure we have enough for the capacity increase and the summer weather where we saw people definitely enjoyed being outside,” he said. “We’re gearing up to having a larger patio and want to meet the staffing needs.”

 

The restaurant currently has six open positions for both front- and back-of-house roles. Mecha’s open positions are getting some traction, but nothing like they did a year ago, Reyes said. 

 

“Usually when I post an ad, I am looking at 80 resumes within a couple hours. Now it’s about 30 which is still a decent pool as long as I find the right candidate,” Reyes added. 

 

Mecha isn’t the only one experiencing the hiring lag. The issue is also being seen by some larger restaurant corporations like Barcelona Wine Bar. 

 

The Spanish tapas and cocktail bar has 18 locations across the U.S. The restaurant currently has 42 positions open across its 5 locations in Connecticut. 

 

Barcelona’s CEO Adam Halberg said the hiring push is set to accommodate the incoming demand in the next few months. But it won’t be an easy feat.

 

“The challenge is that there are so many people having to hire at the same time. There are so many other restaurants trying to build up and bolster their teams,” Harlberg said. 

 

During the pandemic, Halberg said he saw many restaurant employees, not just with Barcelona,  make the difficult decision to step away from the industry and pursue other paths. He doesn’t know if they’ll return. 

 

In the meantime, while employee positions pick up, Halberg is excited about the future of restaurants as we near a post-pandemic world. 

 

“In a normal recession or bad economy, oftentimes restaurants and bars remain to be the places people go and spend some of their income because it’s an affordable luxury, it’s something you can do that makes you feel good about yourself, it puts you in a social context with other people. That has been so much of what has been stripped for us,” Halberg said. “People are ready to reconnect with people. People that met and fell in love just sitting in restaurants and there’s a real hunger for that.” 

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