Life

Restaurant Staffing Issues Becoming More Apparent

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As more people decided to dine out or order for Valentine’s Day, restaurant staffing issues had some customers noticing major problems.

The pandemic forced some restaurants to close and others to layoff staff members. But just in time for Valentine’s Day, restaurant staffing issues are biting diners and the places they’re visiting.

Last week, I ordered takeout from a national chain restaurant. I find this restaurant’s service largely inconsistent. Before the pandemic, you’d sometimes have an attentive server. Other times, you’d almost have to beg for a menu or your check at the end of your meal.

While some dining rooms are reopening, I prefer takeout. This time, I ordered online. I received an email with clear instructions: “Stay in your vehicle and we’ll bring the food out to you.” My food, it said, would be ready at 8:22 p.m.

Since I live nearby, so I arrived a few minutes early. I waited. And waited.

I checked email and a few apps on my phone.

It was 8:32. I didn’t have my food. Even worse, no one ever acknowledged me. That seemed odd, but I figured maybe they were just running late.

At 8:37, I decided I’d give them five minutes before I went inside. All the while, I could see two tables with three bags of food. Someone in a DoorDash hat walked in himself and picked up one bag and left with it.

At 8:44 — 20 minutes after my food was supposed to be ready — I walked inside. I asked a young waitress about my order and at first suggested it must not be ready. When I told her it should have been ready 20 minutes earlier, she checked one of the bags and realized one was mine.

It sat on the table the entire time I sat in my car.

The guy in charge didn’t help matters.

I asked to speak to whoever was in charge of takeout. This young guy already has an attitude when he walks out of the kitchen. He told me this is why they always tell people to call the restaurant when they get there. I pointed out that I ordered through the app.

“Oh, that’s the corporate app. That’s not our app,” he said.

It was their food that they made when I ordered through that “corporate” app, I said. I pointed out that no one even looked to see if I was there.

“Well, we’re very busy in the kitchen and we just don’t have anyone who has time to keep an eye on the window,” he said.

After placing blame on me for not calling when I arrived, he then placed blame on the corporate office for not listening to them about changing the emails the app sends out.

But get this: I told him there was another vehicle that had been waiting for at least five minutes. No one walked out to acknowledge him either. As I was leaving, this guy finally apologizes for my wait, then walks back into the kitchen. He still didn’t go out to check on the other customer waiting.

So as I passed his vehicle, I motioned for him to roll down his window and told him he might as well go inside. No one in there, I told him, has time to bring the food out…or even notice we’re there.

The next day, I talked to the manager of that location. He seemed very angry about the experience. The level of anger surprised me; I got the distinct impression I was not the first person to point out this problem.

Valentine’s Day didn’t go any better.

For Valentine’s, I thought I’d order a takeout at my favorite steak restaurant. I went, as always, to their website to order online for curbside pickup.

A funny thing happened: the traditional “Start Order” button was gone. Instead, a message above the address instructed me to call instead. I called. A recording answered the phone, thanking me for my patience while staffers were helping others. But I could skip the hold time, the recording said, by going online to order. Then, without giving me an option to sit through the hold time to place an order by phone, it disconnected.

Whatever restaurant staffing issue this particular restaurant had, some of its sister restaurants had the same problem. Of three locations of that same chain in my area, two had the same problem. I called the third to inquire and was immediately greeted by someone who asked me to please hold for a moment. Before I could even respond, I heard elevator music. About 30 seconds later, I heard him pick up the phone and the call immediately disconnected.

Obviously, I did not get my steak dinner.

The backup plan wound up being even worse.

My backup plan was Japanese. That turned out to be a mistake. When you order from this place, the order always takes about 30 minutes, even though the website estimates a 20-minute wait.

When the website estimated a 30-minute wait, I should have known something was wrong.

I got there — at the time the food was supposed to be ready — to find a dozen people waiting for their takeout orders. Whatever the restaurant staffing issues were, people were not happy. I thought one guy ahead of me was going to start throwing things.

My food should have been ready at 6:55 p.m. They finally called my name at 8:05 p.m.!

Someone in line tried to give them the benefit of the doubt by suggesting this might have been one of the first nights they’d opened their dining room. But, I pointed out, it wasn’t like there was a crowd in the dining room. And food being more than an hour late without any explanation — or apology — isn’t acceptable. Period.

To top it off, the food wasn’t even hot. I tried to remind myself that despite the wait, at least the food would be hot. It was lukewarm at best. I had to put it in the microwave. That makes me wonder how long it sat back in the kitchen waiting for someone to actually walk it out to me. Apparently, it wasn’t taking as long as they acted like it did.

Restaurants, here’s a word of advice.

Some of us are doing our best to keep patronizing your establishments. We want good food. We want to see you survive this prolonged ordeal.

But it’s time to get serious. These restaurant staffing issues aren’t making your customers want to sympathize. They’re making your customers regret even trying to order from you.

If you’ve laid off a bunch of employees, now’s the time to bring them back. Or hire new ones.

If it takes this long to get food — and it shouldn’t — that should be a clear sign that you don’t have enough people working. And your loyal customers are only going to be so patient. We’re stressed out, too, just like you and your employees are.

We’re not asking for anything elaborate…we just want good service.

If that’s too much to ask, it’s time to close.

Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.