RI restaurants continue to struggle finding workers

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) — As the state continues to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, the restaurant industry is still struggling to find employees.

Many local eateries, like Brewed Awakenings, are shortening their hours because of it.

Others, like The Grange Restaurant in Providence, are closing their doors temporarily saying they can’t keep up with demand.

While many are quick to point to low wages and harsh working environments as reason for the shortage of workers, some restaurant owners say that’s not the case.

“What we have done is increased compensation, wages time-off, vacation time,” explained David Levesque, owner of the Brewed Awakenings chain of coffee shops.

“Everybody is still struggling in the restaurant business, it has not changed at all,” said Levesque. 

“We still have those same people sitting on unemployment when we have jobs readily available for everybody.”

Restauranteurs like Levesque point the finger at pandemic-era unemployment benefits, which in Rhode Island will continue until September 6th.

The extension, signed by Governor Dan McKee last month, allows residents to continue collecting an additional $300 per week from the federal government on top of unemployment benefits. 

“The downside is, in the near future when we get around September-October, the restaurant community in Block island, Narragansett, Newport starts to contract— and we drop off about 25% of the labor market we don’t need anymore,” explained Levesque.

 “So when unemployment ends with the free money that our governor has signed on for, we’re not going to have the jobs available for people when they do come back.”

Like many restaurants, Brewed Awakenings is adapting.

They’ve shortened their hours and have new technologies on the way — like kiosks and dishwashers to help make up for the lack of staff.

Their Providence location even sat closed for roughly 9 months before finally re-opening Tuesday.

“Our entire company has changed,” said Levesque.

Levesque says business is actually better than it was pre-pandemic, but his restaurants, like many others, can’t keep up with the demand due to lack of staff.

Categories: News, Rhode Island