Reopening Signals Rebound for Restaurant Industry, But Workforce Still Runs Thin

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Tuesday had a summer holiday feel, and certainly brought similar benefits to San Diego’s local economy.

San Diegans have been looking forward to waving goodbye to pandemic restrictions and enjoying a night out without them, and while restaurant and bar owners were, too, some staffs aren’t ready to handle the wave of eager customers.

The reality is the industry is still missing a significant portion of its workforce. You can chalk it up to unemployment benefit bonuses, fear of COVID-19 or family care issues. At the end of the day it doesn’t change anything for those who are working, or the customers expecting a certain level of service.

“We are actually losing some business in those efforts just to provide the highest standards we can while not over extending ourselves or providing poor service,” said Alex Broadbent, manager at Puesto in Seaport Vilalge.

If you want to know how desperate local restaurants are to fill positions from managers to servers and hosts, take a look at the wanted ads on sites like Craigslist and

Puesto is offering incentives even college graduates and skilled laborers might find difficult to get.

“I think it reflects the urgency in which we would like to hire,” Broadbent said.

NBC 7's Omari Fleming reports from San Diego's world-famous Gaslamp Quarter.

The pay is between $220 and $280 dollars per shift with full medical, dental and vision benefits for full timers and a 30% employee discount. There’s also a $400 dollar signing bonus for kitchen staff.

Business owners are rejoicing now that California has lifted COVID-19 restrictions to allow them to have a larger capacity at their establishments. NBC 7’s Lauren Coronado speaks with a North Park business owner on how that'll impact his eatery.

And if you trying to gauge your chances of getting picked up by Puesto, Broadbent said pre-pandemic staff levels were 200-plus. Right now, they’re at about 125.

“Paying a livable wage, paying them benefits is something that now is required and should be,” Broadbent confessed.

Laura Gonzalez is a lab technician by day, but three weeks ago picked up a part-time assistant server job at Puesto.

“It’s is a lot of work but I like it," said Gonzalez, who is learning the trade on the job and still making top dollar. “They are willing to open their arms more for people willing to work so I don't understand why they are not coming out and trying to work."

Puesto said it doesn’t use automatic gratuities or hidden service charges. The goal is to get the economy back to normal, including its driving force -- the workers.

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