Low unemployment leading to high job vacancy in restaurants across Utah

Posted at 5:28 PM, Apr 16, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah has rebounded from the pandemic so well that the state currently has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.

But that's having an unexpected impact on the food service industry — they are having issues finding people to fill vacant positions.

“It's the first I’ve ever experienced it,” said Michael McHenry, owner of the McHenry Group. “Once our dining room capacities opened, and especially in our suburban restaurants where the community was like, ‘We want to sit down, we want in,’ we found ourselves in a scenario where our dining rooms were filling faster than we could take care of our guests — which is a great problem to have.”

While it’s a sign of a good recovery from the pandemic, it’s a double-edged sword.

And it's not just McHenry’s restaurants.

The Department of Workforce Services and the Utah Restaurant Association are also speaking up about the issue.

“The average restaurant is short about 25 percent,” McHenry said, and that adds up. “We’re talking about 25,000 or more jobs in our industry alone."

McHenry's group of restaurants include ones across the state, like Oak Wood Fire Kitchen in Draper which FOX 13 visited on Friday.

He says there are about 60 open positions between between Oak Wood Fire Kitchen, Ginger Street, Dirty Bird and an all-new restaurant called Sundays Best that will be open in a few weeks.

From the leadership team to servers to cooks, McHenry explained that “over half of the positions that we have at a full-time capacity [are] making over $45,000 a year.”

Ultimately, filling all these positions will be a challenge that takes time.

“It's an exciting challenge, but it's still a challenge,” McHenry said. “I did not expect the lack of available workforce and talent to be our biggest opportunity.”

Through this period of growth, McHenry says longer wait times might be a part of the game as restaurants fill up quickly, so he asks Utahns to be patient as they work to fill vacant positions.