ALEXANDRIA, Va. — As restaurants welcome back even more crowds after the recent lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, both staff and supply shortages continue to bring challenges.
Items like silverware, glassware, food ingredients, and parts for kitchen equipment are taking far longer to arrive and bringing a fresh round of issues after food establishments survived a brutal year.
The delays in shipping come as staffing shortages are also taking a toll on restaurant teams.
Earlier this month, a Bureau of Labor Statistics report estimated that the leisure and hospitality industry was facing a shortfall of more than two million jobs compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Inside the Alto-Hartley restaurant supply store in Alexandria, some of the challenges can be seen firsthand.
A recent visit to the shop saw empty spots where ovens and kitchen ranges would normally sit.
Due to long delays with shipping, staff continues to wait for replacements to arrive.
"It’s been extremely frustrating both on the customer's end and on our end," said manager Jason G. Morgan. "On one hand, everyone is happy that things are reopening but on the other hand everybody is hurt because it’s hard to get the product.”
Morgan told WUSA 9 that refrigerators, fryers, and convection ovens, in particular, have been tough to get on time.
Due to the increased demand coming for the items and shipping companies also dealing with shortages in staffing, a process that would normally be resolved within two weeks could now take months.
"We’re seeing things, where it used to be maybe one to two weeks, was the lead time to seven to eight weeks, up to 12. Someone even told me next year is the time I’ll get the product," Morgan said. "Anything before was like a week or two weeks tops. That was a long lead time. Now two weeks sounds good.”
During an interview in late May before all capacity restrictions were lifted for food establishments in DC, the 1789 restaurant on Georgetown echoed the same concerns.
"You have to buy a lot of glassware and supplies just to get your place ready. That’s taking weeks. People don’t have supplies," said Area Director of Operations David Moran. "You want to order something and what usually used to take seven to 10 business days is now four to six weeks.”
Moran told WUSA 9 that the recent announcements of rollbacks led to an increase in business almost every day at the restaurant. However, like many other restaurants, 1789 has experienced challenges filling open positions.
According to Moran, Clyde's Restaurant Group currently has around 1,200 workers for all of its eateries when it normally has around 2,000.
Moving forward, both Moran and Morgan said customers should be patient as restaurants reopen and staff navigate through getting things up and running once again.
"It’s going to take us all a little time to get back up to operating full," Moran said. "There’s certainly a lot more planning needed. It’s not simply unlock the door and make the magic happen.”
"It might be a tough summer for a lot of restaurants cause they can’t get a hold of products," Morgan added. "You just have to do your best and hang in there. It’s as simple as that.”