Thanksgiving rush highlights Austin-area restaurant struggles

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Thanksgiving Eve is one of the biggest tests for restaurants around Central Texas this year — as owners juggle staffing shortages and customer demand.

To-go orders, reservations and restaurant traffic more than doubled Wednesday for many Austin-area restaurants.

“It is our third busiest day of the year and I’m just anticipating crowds getting larger,” said Carol Huntsberger, owner of Quality Seafood.

Her job description has looked a little different in the past few months. Instead of working in her office, she’s out on the floor, and even working on her days off. She’s down about 30 employees, making the holiday rush a little more difficult.

“It’s like, ‘We can rise to this challenge, we got it, we got this.’ But there are days you feel a little defeated,” said Huntsberger. “It’s hard and we are doing the best we can.”

According to a recent survey from the Texas Restaurant Association:

  • 72% of Texas operators say their restaurant currently does not have enough employees to support its existing customer demand
  • 96% of operators say their total food costs (as a percent of sales) are higher than they were prior to the COVID-19 outbreak
  • 91% of operators say their total labor costs (as a percent of sales) are higher than they were prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Only 3% of operators say their labor costs declined as a percent of sales

“Austin is kind of the epicenter of these challenges… we have people moving here daily, so we have really strong demand, which is great,” Kelsey Erickson Streufert, Chief Public Affairs Officer at the Texas Restaurant Association explained. “But we also have affordability struggles, and that leads to workforce challenges and supply chain challenges, particularly with logistics and all of our ports being backed up and not having enough truck drivers. It’s kind of one system and each point of that system is experiencing that workforce shortage. And so that adds up and is what you’re seeing at your local restaurants.”

Place likes Quality Seafood are seeing those supply chain issues with backlogs and shortages in cargo departments, leading to increased costs.

So what does this mean for consumers? At some restaurants, fewer workers and possible menu changes because normal items might not be available.

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