Houston restaurants seeing larger crowds, longer wait times amid staffing shortage

Many Houston area restaurants are seeing a major rise in reservations
Many Houston area restaurants are seeing a major rise in reservations

HOUSTON – If you headed out for “Sunday Funday” this weekend or just out to eat recently, you may have noticed the crowds. More people are getting out and about and in some cases, tables are hard to come by.

“People are back. People are dining,” said Greater Houston Restaurant Association president Cameron James. “Right now, we are living in that kind of ‘boom’ and it’s everywhere.”

At Coppa Osteria in Rice Village, the patio and dining room were packed with people over the weekend.

“I would say the same or about 10 to 15% better than pre-COVID-19,” said Coppa Osteria owner of Grant Cooper of Clark Cooper Concepts. “We are happy to see people coming in. People are trying to do their little so-called hugs from afar, but now I think they are actually embracing each other a little.”

Houston restaurant industry experiencing major staffing shortage as 100% capacity resumes

This time last year, Cooper, who owns three other Houston restaurants, had to lay off several longtime staff members.

“I was breaking down crying trying to tell my staff what we had to do. We had to lay a lot of people off that had worked very hard,” said Cooper. “It was a very hard, emotional time for our staff.”

But now, it is quite the opposite. With a high demand for dining out, more employees are needed.

A restaurant staffing shortage, one of the worst ever for Texas, and the loss of 2,500 restaurants to COVID-19 are contributing to a smaller pool of options for restaurants.

“We literally can’t open our two other restaurants because we don’t have enough staff,” Cooper said.

James said the association plans to meet with the Texas Workforce Commission in the coming days to come up with a plan to entice more employees back into restaurants.

“It is a very exciting time for the restaurant industry, and I hope that people will recognize that and want to come back and work in this industry,” said James.

Until then, as more people go out to eat, industry experts say plan ahead, make reservations and be prepared to wait.