SEATTLE - Walking around on a summer night, it feels like Washington is back.
"Everyone’s ready to go out and ready to have a good time ready to enjoy some good food and drink," said Jeshua Madden, bar lead at Grappa restaurant on Queen Anne.
Restaurants like Grappa are busier than they were even pre-pandemic. That sounds great, but it’s not that simple.
"The problem at hand right now is finding goody, qualified staff that actually want to come back and do the work," said Madden.
Across Washington State, restaurants are struggling with a lack of applicants. "There just doesn’t seem to be that workforce there to fill the void," said Madden.
Continued unemployment benefits may have kept some at home, but research shows something else too.
"The gap between not being able to work because of the pandemic until now has caused people to leave the industry, to retrain to do other things so a lot of those people just aren’t there anymore," said Madden.
Assistant Professor Bamboo Chen of WSU’s Hospitality Business Management recently published a research paper focusing on how the psychological stress of furloughed and laid off hospitality workers felt during the pandemic, and the role that played into their next career move.
"They were socially isolated, they were depressed, and so that led to really poor well-being and also a lot of them wanting to leave the hospitality industry," said Chen.
Chen said younger people and women seemed most impacted, but across the board many restaurant and hotel workers have sought out a new industry. Anecdotally he’s found sales and customer service to be a popular switch. But he said while many have left, creating lots of vacancies, he doesn’t think it’ll stay this way for long.
"We just recently have people traveling and dining out especially in Washington state, so it’s very recently those jobs are open so I think those employers need to be a little more patient because it’s just the start of the recovery," said Chen.
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