Wichita restaurants discuss impact of unprecedented staffing shortages in industry

Published: May. 4, 2021 at 11:31 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Ordinarily in the days leading up to May 5, the Carlos O’Kelly’s restaurant locations in Wichita would have large signs to advertise a Cinco de Mayo special. Instead, a prominent sign at the front of the west Wichita location says, “Now Hiring.” It’s the need for staff that could mean longer waits for the early-May holiday at several restaurants.

Cinco de Mayo is the busiest day of the year for many Mexican restaurants. And unlike last year at this time, restaurants can serve customers face-to-face.

“Cinco de Mayo is an open to close thing. It’s just going to be steady, busy all day long,” said Carlos O’ Kelly’s Culinary Leader Kelly Taylor.

But while the in-person service is step up from last year, the COVID-19 pandemic scoops up another problem for restaurants to deal with. Taylor, who has worked in the restaurant business for years, said the current staffing shortage is the worst she’s even seen.

“Once the stimulus checks came out, there was a complete stop on application flow,” she said.

Taylor said ideally, Carlos O’Kelly’s would have twice the amount of staff it has right now. The shortage causes longer waits.

“The most difficult thing for us will be that we just can’t serve our customers as quickly as we would like to,” she said.

Carlos O’Kelly’s is far from alone.

Jose Pepper’s is another popular restaurant that is working with a significantly smaller staff than it’s used to leading up to its biggest day of the year.

“Nobody is having the day off,” Jose Peppers Manager Jordan Owens said of the Cinco de Mayo staffing. “Usually, there is a couple people that have the day off if they don’t want to work, but this year, if your work for Jose Peppers, you’ll be at work.”

While the situation presents challenges, Taylor and Owens said they’re doing the best they can and are thankful for how understanding customers have been with the longer waits.

“We just ask that people come to have some fun and just be understanding of the staff levels not being where we would like them to be, and just be patient with us. But we are doing the best we can,” Owens said.

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