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DMV restaurant owners struggling to find employees as restrictions ease

The Alexandria Restaurant Partners said a lot of their restaurants need 30% more staff.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Restaurant owners are excited that restrictions continue to ease, but now, they say they're struggling to find employees. 

The Alexandria Restaurant Partners just opened BARCA Pier and Wine Bar on the Potomac River on April 1. Reservations have been hard to come by, patrons say, but so have staff.

“I think it's just increased competition and capacity," managing partner Dave Nicholas said. "You know, some people don't want to travel. They were willing to travel when things were really tight in other markets. And you know, as things loosen up, it just becomes more challenging.”

Nicholas said a lot of their 10 restaurants are looking to hire about 30% more staff.

One bartender at BARCA said if he quit on the spot, he would have at least six other job offers waiting for him -- that's how much of a deficit there is.

He said part of the problem is that many of his colleagues left the industry when the pandemic hit and found more stable jobs.

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That's why when Governor Ralph Northam suddenly gave the greenlight to resume bar seating last week, Nicholas had a mixed reaction.

“It was a little challenging happening immediately, you know, I had to navigate getting furniture out and obviously staffing the bars," he said. "But it was great news, and you know, we'll take it and hopefully it continues to ease as we go.”

The new outdoor space was a welcome sight to patron Robin Harry, who was out to lunch with her fellow nurse and nurse practitioner friends Sunday.

“It's awesome. beautiful weather. Nice to be outside," Harry said. "Every weekend we meet up and go to a local place to support local businesses.”

Nicholas said he's overwhelmed by the positive response to the new bar. But, as their restaurants get even busier, staff remind customers that they're working to ramp up with fewer hands on deck. They ask for patience as leaders roll back more restrictions.

“The world's gonna get back to normal and… hopefully this is in our rearview mirror and so stays there forever," Nicholas said.

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