Whidbey businesses recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic are finding themselves hit hard by another challenge: a shortage of workers and droves of customers who have tired of their own four walls.
As the weather has gotten warmer, short-staffed small businesses — especially restaurants — have found themselves unable to keep up with the demands of spring crowds eager to escape their homes.
During a Langley city council meeting last week, Inge Morascini, the executive director for the Langley Chamber of Commerce, said restaurants had to turn away half of their customers the previous weekend.
She described an influx of visitors that would be normal for July, but which has been happening in April.
One solution, she said, could be the allowance of food trucks earlier in the year to help alleviate some of the pressure restaurants have been feeling from the hungry hordes of tourists.
Langley’s ordinance currently states that food trucks are not permitted until shortly before Memorial Day weekend.
Langley Mayor Tim Callison agreed that the council could review the ordinance and potentially decide to update it, although those changes wouldn’t go into effect until after the improved ordinance is brought forth at the next two council meetings. The time of operation, location, and number of food trucks will also have to be discussed.
Morascini pointed out that there are plenty of jobs available in Langley.
An April 22 newsletter from the Langley Chamber of Commerce listed 30 places, the majority of which are located in Langley, that are hiring workers.
Places like Saltwater Fish House and Oyster Bar and Prima Bistro are even offering incentives for workers who live off-island, including covering the cost of ferry fare.
Jenn Jurriaans, a co-owner of the two restaurants, said it has been particularly difficult to find applicants to fill “back of house” positions — such as dishwashers and line cooks.
A lack of staff meant three-hour waits for some during the last sunny weekend.
Her restaurants have been running at 50 percent capacity and “50 percent of the hours,” she said. Each one is open for five dinner shifts and two lunch shifts.
She advises famished travelers on weekend getaways to either make reservations in advance or to consider getting some groceries earlier in the day so they don’t go to bed hungry.
The Braeburn, a popular brunch spot one street away in Langley, shut down temporarily for one week so exhausted workers could take a much-needed rest.
“It was so apparent that we were all getting really burned out,” said Lisa Carvey, the restaurant’s owner.
The restaurant, also short on staff, has had to make some changes recently, including demoting its tent space from a full-service extension of the building to a place where people can sit and eat their take-out orders.
Carvey said the Braeburn needs about eight more people on staff in order to return the tent to a full-service area and in order to have the restaurant operate on a schedule with full hours.