Restaurants return to work but help wanted as customers come back

As restaurants return to work after the COVID-19 shutdowns have been lifted, they're encountering a different problem: finding enough employees willing to show up.

Mesa Tacos and Tequila in downtown Royal Oak is one restaurant that's experiencing an issue with getting people back on the job.

"I'm not complaining at all - it is an absolutely fantastic problem to have," said owner Jenna Derrig. "It's tough to get staff in." 

Since the Stay Home, Stay Safe order was lifted, and restaurants have been allowed to reopen for dine-in service, Derrig says business has been pretty steady.

"Everyone has been absolutely amazing and coming in to visit us since we are able to re-open at 50% capacity," she said. 

Derrig was able to bring all but two employees back and those two chose to remain laid off. But the restaurant is now approaching their busy patio season and, with plans to expand, Derrig says they can't seem to get anyone new in the door because of two things: the pandemic and because many are still receiving unemployment benefits through July.

"We're actually incentivizing with generous bonuses if people want to come in, start working and stick with us," Derrig said.

She said the bonuses are on a case-by-case basis but are "extremely generous." 

This isn't a new problem though. Even when they were only doing carry-out they had to turn customers away because they didn't have enough people.

"We've had to shut off the tablets and carry out because obviously we want to make sure the people that we have in-house get the best service and the best experience they possibly can get," Derrig said.

The restaurant is looking for help in the kitchen and says some days, they're running with one cook - but they need six line and prep cooks, two dishwashers, and a food runner just to keep up.

" We make everything fresh every day so it's an extremely labor-intensive process," Derrig said.

Experienced servers and bartenders are wanted as well and Derrig said she promises there will be plenty of work to go around.

"They'll be running their tails off within the next hour there's no doubt about it," she said.

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