clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Restaurants Close ‘Temporarily,’ Say They Can’t Find Enough Workers

Nine out of 10 restaurants say they are understaffed. Owners hope service will rebound in September, when pandemic unemployment payments end

A blue sign that reads “Sorry, we’re closed” hangs in a restaurant window. Shutterstock

The staffing shortage in the hospitality industry has been taking its toll, with local restaurants cutting hours, even keeping doors closed for days on end, a week, or a month.

A lack of staff forced Michael Hennes, owner of Cajun and Creole restaurant Howe’s Bayou in Ferndale to close for the rest of the month. “Well not fun for me to say this, but we have to close the restaurant for a while until we can get enough staff to do the job right,” Hennes, posted on Facebook recently. “I hope this is a short break and we will see you all soon.”

He’s not the first restaurateur to close its doors over staffing shortages. The east side Caribbean restaurant Norma G’s blamed staff shortages for a recent closing, And Jim Sage, owner of Sajo’s in Clinton Township, posted on its social media sites that the Mediterranean and American restaurant will be closed through August, at least.

“It hurts more than you think,” Sage told Fox 2 Detroit. “It’s very hard to replace these [ex-staffers], it’s very difficult. He says he plans to reopen in September when pandemic unemployment payments cease, a financial incentive many restaurant workers say is contributing to the industry’s staff gaps.

Central City Tap House in Kalamazoo said in June it was closing its doors “until we can find a full enough roster in our kitchen to re-open to our customers,” and urged people to apply for jobs at the company. In Ferndale, Ethiopian restaurant the Blue Nile, closed to dine-in service during the pandemic, with the owners apologizing to customers that service wasn’t up to par but that carry-out service would be available. In July, it offered a $1,200 signing bonus to employees. The restaurant is currently closed until September while the owners travel to Ethiopia to restock ingredients.

One restaurant last week said that staffing issues forced it to close permanently. Detroit Eatz, 32704 Grand River, posted on its Facebook page it was shutting down for good.

“Due to staffing issues, we are permanently closed,” the post made on Thursday, August 12 reads. A sign on the door of the restaurant confirmed closed permanently.

The fast-food restaurant, or “dreli,” opened less than two years ago at the site of a former Burger King on Grand River between Orchard Lake and Farmington roads. In addition to burgers and fries, the dreli, or drive-thru deli served delicatessen items.

A new survey from the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association shows that 9 in 10 restaurant operators polled said they don’t have enough workers to meet consumer demand. More than 85 percent of full-service restaurants reported closing early or for specific times during the day because of inadequate staffing.

The MRLA conducted the survey Aug. 3-6 to determine the challenges the industry was facing a month and a half after COVID restrictions were lifted. The survey included 320 responses from Michigan restaurant and hotel operators, representing approximately 1,000 locations statewide.

Omar Mitchell, who recently opened the fine-dining restaurant Imaginate in Royal Oak, says looking for staff “was definitely a little scary” before launch. He and the restaurant’s general manager, Mark Smith, were becoming a little discouraged after posting calls for workers on social media accounts and on Indeed, and receiving little response. He says the men decided to “go old school,” calling associates, friends, and former colleagues on the phone, and inviting them in for a look. “It’s been working for us,” he says.

Sandy Levine, a partner in the midtown Detroit restaurant Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails, told WDET radio in June 2021 that the last year and a half has been challenging but that restaurants need to stop dehumanizing their workers.

“There were staffing shortages, even before COVID,” he told the Detroit station. “But a lot of restaurant industry workers, I think, had been looking for an excuse to leave the industry. And, COVID, you know, provided that and, much more of an excuse to just leave for good.”

All over town, and across the nation, help-wanted signs at restaurants are plentiful. And so are signing and retention bonuses.

“People are leaving the industry because it’s not a great industry to work in as a whole,” Levine says.

Norma G's

14628 East Jefferson Avenue, , MI 48215 (313) 290-2938 Visit Website

Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails

15 East Kirby Street, , MI 48202 (313) 818-3915 Visit Website

Norma G's Detroit

14628 East Jefferson Avenue, , MI 48215 (313) 290-2938 Visit Website

Howe's Bayou

22848 Woodward Avenue, , MI 48220 (248) 691-7145 Visit Website

Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails

15 E Kirby St, Detroit, MI 48202 (313) 818-3915

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Eater Detroit newsletter

The freshest news from the local food world