AUSTIN (KXAN) — The sign at Doc’s Backyard Bar and Grill only begins to tell the story of the struggle to find workers, even after a small spike in applications.

“Out of the 93 people, we set up 10 interviews. Out of the 10 interviews, only three showed up. Those three were phenomenal. But out of those three, only one showed up to take the job,” said owner Charles Milligan.

Doc's Backyard Bar and Grill struggles to find employees
Doc’s Backyard Bar and Grill struggles to find employees

The shortage forced Milligan to remove tables and bring in family to help. But to fully operate, he still needs about 20 more workers.

“We’ve incentivized our staff that if they bring people in and make it through training, we would give them $250, and if they make it out of training — another $250,” Milligan said.

He’s not the only one in need of good workers. Cedar Park Pub owner Sonya Holloway had to take her operation from seven days a week to five.

“We’ve had to drop our hours, shorten our week, and we’re looking for at least eight more workers — six at minimum,” Holloway said.

They both tell us unemployment checks are partly to blame.

“If I were to quote a few of our members over the past few days, they do believe their greatest competitor for staff right now would be the federal government,” said Joe Monastero, Chief Strategy & Operations Officer at the Texas Restaurant Association (TRA). “There’s not a single phone call or a single interaction that we are having now with a restauranteur where within the first two minutes, they are not talking about just how badly they need to find employees.”

According to the TRA, while restaurants have recently tried to bring back some of the jobs lost during the pandemic, overall staffing levels remain well below normal. About 84% of Texas restaurant operators said their staffing level right now is lower than what it would be without COVID-19.

And relief doesn’t seem to be on the horizon. The TRA said among those operating below normal staffing levels, 36% believe it will be seven to 12 months before levels go back to normal for their establishment. More than 20% think it will take longer than a year.

If you are looking for a job — you’re in luck. According to the TRA, 91% of restauranteurs say they have job openings right now. However, operators are not confident employees will stick around — with 93% of them saying recruiting and retaining workers will be more difficult after the pandemic than it was before.

TRA itself predicts the road to recovery will take two to three years.

“Within the next year and a half, we are going to have upwards of 300,000 jobs we need to fill in the industry across Texas,” Monastero said.

TRA calls this the largest labor shortage in the industry’s history. It counts about 200,000 job openings right now statewide and almost 45,000 in Central Texas.