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Staffing shortages still plague Minnesota restaurant industry

A new survey shows the hospitality industry is still having trouble finding employees.

MINNEAPOLIS — In the heart of downtown Minneapolis, Hark! Cafe is persevering during the pandemic. 

Despite widespread staffing shortages across the industry, co-owner and chef Katherine Pardue said Hark! has done very well in that area, needing to fill only one evening line cook position right now. Pardue credits, in part, the cafe's vaccine or negative test requirement for indoor dining, which she hopes will make prospective job candidates feel safer.

"So, in the hiring process, making sure that you are clarifying up front, 'hey, here are our procedures around COVID,'" Pardue said. "Especially in the service industry, when so many people in the beginning of the pandemic got so sick working those jobs, to have great procedures in place and being up front about how you're handling COVID, has been something we've learned how to do."

Credit: KARE 11
Hark! Cafe has avoided major staffing shortages, which owners believe may be partly due to the vaccine/negative testing requirement for indoor dining.

Hark! has relied on word-of-mouth job recruiting to find strong candidates. 

However, Pardue acknowledges that the industry, as a whole, has been facing significant challenges for a number of reasons during the pandemic.

"A lot of people aren't interested in coming back to this kind of work," she said, "or will come back with a significant pay raise, or with more workplace protections."

According to a Fall 2021 survey led by Hospitality Minnesota, 91% of foodservice respondents said labor availability has been "tight." The survey's authors said that "while 75% of hospitality operators indicate they are currently hiring, workforce shortage continues to be one of the biggest challenges facing the industry."

Ling Becker, the Director of Workforce Solutions for Ramsey County, has been spending a lot of energy lately helping local businesses recruit employees. 

"There are a lot of reasons why people maybe aren't flocking to those industries right now," Becker said. "Also, a lot of people are maybe reconsidering their priorities, and what they want to be doing, and they're taking advantage of an opportunity to reset during their career."

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Becker said the county is partnering with Visit St. Paul and Visit Roseville to put out job postings, and they're also partnering with school districts to find candidates at the high school and college levels.

"To ensure hospitality jobs are front and center to college and high school students," Becker said. "A lot of those folks have schedules that change, and making sure they are regularly, weekly, sharing job opportunities to those students. Sometimes, timing is everything."

At Hark! Cafe, Katherine Pardue sees the pandemic as a vehicle for change in the hospitality industry.

"One of the greatest things about the service industry is the people that work in it," she said. "You can't find a better group... Collectively, working to fight for workplace protections and better pay, can only improve the experience of not only staff but also customers." 

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