PLAYA VISTA, Calif. — As diners return, restaurants are now facing what many say is a new crisis.
Managers say the supply and demand have flipped, from not enough customers to not enough staff to serve the customers.
So short on staff, Teal Lopez is working the kitchen line. It isn't a task a general manager typically ends up doing, but she can't find enough food runners or bussers to do the job, she said.
Teal can't find enough applicants for any position to fill Sol Mexican Cocina, and she's hiring for all of them.
"It's been really challenging to see applicant pools be so dried up," Lopez explained.
It's a shortage she's never seen, she said. She's worked in restaurants since she was a teenager and has been a manager in some capacity for the last 15 years. Teal said the pandemic has done a number on this industry.
"A lot of restaurant professionals or longtime restaurant employees had gone elsewhere to other industries just because I think of the destruction COVID caused the industry overall last year. They couldn't wait for us to get to normal," Lopez explained.
Even the staff that are still working say they can't promise they'll be there for good.
When Gio was laid off from his last job in West Hollywood, he said he was grateful to be hired at Sol, but he isn't sure he'll be there long term.
It's a constant turnover that Teal said is impossible to keep up with as a manager, and Mae Rose Maylor said she noticed immediately as a new hire.
The college student was just brought on two months ago as a hostess and has already been promoted to a server with no experience.
"I've seen people come in, and they do the orientation day, and they don't even start. Or a lot of people just leaving suddenly. One of the girls just left yesterday," Maylor explained.
She said she was happy to fill the server opening when Teal had no one else, but she wasn't expecting they would need her five days a week when she only planned to work three for some extra cash.
Ever since she was hired, Mae said employees have been coming and going. It's a revolving door that many restaurants are calling a crisis across the country.
According to the National Restaurant Association, staffing levels at full-service restaurants are 20%, or 1.1 million jobs, less than just a year ago.
Teal joked that at Sol "full" and "staff" are now two forbidden words.
"I tell my team, 'Don't say we're fully staffed' because as soon as the words come out, it's like 'I want to give notice' or people stop coming in," she explained. "It's just been this roller coaster of emotions of us."
Both Sol Mexican Cocina and Hash Restaurant down the street are hiring.