Local restaurants face shortage of workers

It’s a problem that many different industries are facing right now

How do you find enough workers?

The National Restaurant Association said the worker shortage is the biggest challenge most restaurants face.

Last year, 37 percent of its member restaurants said finding workers was their top challenge, up from 15 percent in 2015.

Several restaurant owners in our area say this shortage is the worst they’ve ever seen.

The doors of Rudy’s Drive-in in La Crosse are all locked up for the winter.

Gary Rudy, o wner of the drive-in and president of the La Crosse Area Restaurant Association said, “It’s probably reaching a critical time. There’s definitely going to be changes coming, I believe, not only for Rudy’s but for everybody.”

Rudy said the shortage of workers is shaking up the industry.

“More and more restaurant owners are actually working the floor themselves, washing dishes, cooking in the kitchen, mopping the floors. I don’t put on roller skates anymore, but I’ll pop off and pick up a tray if people are ready to leave,” Rudy said.

It’s gotten so bad that Rudy’s Drive-In may have to limit its hours of operation.

“One of the options that we’re considering is closing one day a week. Maybe more self-service, maybe interactive menus where you can place your own order on an IPad or on your cellphone. Maybe give you a discount for doing that.”

He’s definitely not alone.

Randy Wigdal a managing partner at Grizzly’s Wood-Fired Grill said, “Last month it was pretty much full time in the kitchen.”

Wigdal said the shortage is the worst he’s seen in more than 30 years.

“Specifically, in the last couple of years it’s been pretty tight in the whole market,” Wigdal said.

And even though he’s been short staffed for more than a year, Wigdal is confident things will get better.

I do think if you’re competitive with wages and you’re good to your people that we’ll be fully staffed at some point,” Wigdal said.

And even though restaurant owners are being forced to adapt, Rudy said that’s just part of the job.

“Business by and large never stays the same. You’re always thinking of a better way to do something. You’re trying to be more creative, serve your customers better,” Wigdal said.

Rudy’s isn’t alone in considering closing one day a week.

Several restaurants in the state are now closing their doors on Mondays or Sundays.

And in an attempt to reduce the need for workers, more restaurants are turning to online ordering and delivery services

Rudy says retirees working part-time are helping combat the shortage a little bit, but it’s still not enough.

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