LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky restaurants can return to full capacity and normal hours Friday when all the coronavirus mandates are lifted, but returning to normal will not be easy because of the labor shortage.
During the height of the pandemic, the Bristol Bar & Grille closed two of its three locations, keeping only the restaurant on Hurstbourne Lane open. The other two will fully reopen but only gradually. The Bardstown Road location is operating on limited hours.
“Normally, we would have our Bardstown Road location open seven days a week. We're just doing dinner for now,” said T.J. Oakley, director of operations at Bristol. “But we'll move into that lunch period really soon.”
The Main Street location will remain closed for now, and Oakley said part of the reason is a lack of workers.
“I think we're better than a lot of folks are, but at the same time, as we get more folks in to work, we'll be able to expand our hours as well,” he said.
Restaurants throughout Louisville face a similar challenge as they try to return to normal.
“I've heard from operators who have removed some tables, physically removed them," said Stacy Roof, president and CEO of the Kentucky Restaurant Association. "Not they aren't able to seat there, they just don't have the staff, necessarily, to cover every square in of the restaurant."
Roof said the reason for the labor shortage is “complicated.” She said there are multiple factors, including Kentucky’s enhanced unemployment benefit which pays an additional $300 a week. She said some workers may not be ready to return because of coronavirus concerns, and some have to care for children or other family members.
“Maybe they took jobs in other industries when our industry was really closed a while last year and they had to find something to get them through that time,” Roof said. “My hope is that they will come back.”
The Bristol is offering incentives to try and attract workers.
“We're doing $500 bonuses," Oakley said. "It's kind of a recruitment and retention bonus,."
While attracting employees is a concern, attracting customers is not. It appears they are ready to return.
“They're wanting to go out to eat," Oakley said. "They're wanting to be with their friends."
Despite the complications, Roof said restaurant operators are pleased the restrictions will soon be lifted.
“Hopefully they'll have a little patience as we staff up and are able to serve them the best we can,” she said. "I think they're ready to whatever capability their staff can do. They're ready to just sell what they can sell and try and get back on track.”
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