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Labor shortage affecting Southwest Florida

Reporter: Andrea Guerrero
Published: Updated:

Jim Rehak and his wife have been loyal customers at Bubba’s Roadhouse and Saloon in Cape Coral for more than 20 years.

“The customer always comes first,” Rehak said.

But behind the scenes, the staff works twice as hard amid a nationwide labor shortage affecting Southwest Florida.

Owner Jay Johnson is short three cooks.

“It’s a big number because those three represent a day off for my current staff. So some work six days, some work seven days and I need to get them rested, so they don’t burnout,” Johnson said.

What is happening at Bubba’s is what’s happening in restaurants nationwide.

Rehak said that’s true even at chain restaurants.

“Slower service, quality service here was not as good,” Rehak said.

Johnson said he started struggling after restaurants opened back up during the pandemic but the money keeps coming in.

“Business-wise, we’re up almost 40 percent over last year. So, we’re seeing some big number increases,” Johnson said. “We’re seeing a lot more customers.”

Both Johnson and Rehak agree work from home jobs keep people out of the restaurant industry.

“Why work when you can make more staying at home,” Rehak said. “The expense of traveling. The gasoline prices of what they are, you can stay in your pajamas and not even leave the house.”

For Ken and Jane Wright, it’s not uncommon to experience a longer wait time at restaurants these days.

“Everyone now and then someone will say be patient or there’s a longer wait time. You’ll see help wanted signs all over the place,” Ken Wright said.

A boom in construction also makes it hard to find restaurant employees. Johnson said many who work in restaurants also work in construction.

But Johnson said he is hopeful with more people moving to Southwest Florida, he’ll be able to find new employees.