Adjusted hours, closed lobbies, modified menus: Restaurant owners explain Nashville’s workforce shortage

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Even though COVID-19 unemployment benefits have ended, getting people back to work has been no easy task.  

One of the industries hit hardest in Nashville has been the service industry.  

“We’d have people that fill out resumes and then we’d tell them to come and show up for work, no shows. We had people call looking for jobs, we’d tell them to come in the next day, no shows,” said Kahlil Arnold, owner of Arnold’s Country Kitchen. “It was like you’d keep looking and there was nobody there. So it’s been crazy trying to find people to work.” 

For others, the challenge has been finding enough qualified staff.  

“We focus on the elements of amazing culinary, amazing drinks, but also experience. And for people to provide that level of experience and move on from ‘what’ to ‘good evening, and welcome, it’s a pleasure to see you,’ all of those elements take a lot of time,” said Ben Powell, owner of Fable Lounge. 

The effects have trickled from fine dining all the way down to drive-thru restaurants, with impacts like closed lobbies, limited menu options, and adjusted hours.  

“Full service is almost impossible right now where you’re either short in front of the house or you’re short in the back of the house,” Arnold said. “I mean a lot of your cooks are serving. You know I know a lot of restaurants where the chefs are out there in the dining room taking orders. I mean that’s what you’re having to do.” 

But keeping the service industry alive is essential, especially in Nashville.  

“We’re fortunate enough in our society that we can push a button and someone will graciously bring us food. We also have the ability to cook,” Powell explained. “We can go from Broadway, we can go to a sports bar… we can go to Fable Lounge, we can go to all those different spaces. So it’s our responsibility as the ambassadors of this industry is to make sure we’re providing you the greatest experience of a lifetime.” 

Arnold said one silver lining has been fellow restaurant owners with the Tennessee volunteer spirit.   

“I’ve sent dishwashers to other places, people have sent me prep cooks, so it’s kind of like the cool thing about the community here is everybody pitches in to help each other out,” Arnold said.  

Arnold adds on top of the worker shortage, the high cost of living and owning a business in Nashville has made it tougher to run a restaurant. In fact, he said the majority of his workers travel to work from Murfreesboro each day. He warns about what could happen if things don’t turn around.  

“A lot of people in the service industry are just going to be overwhelmed with work because you’re going to be washing dishes, bussing tables,” Arnold said. “A lot of restaurants are probably going to close because you just can’t find the staff to fill it.” 

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Fable Lounge and Arnold’s Kitchen said thankfully they have enough staff for now. However, they’ve seen other restaurants offer things like sign-on bonuses, health benefits, and even cash for fast-food workers. 

Hattie B’s is one Nashville staple offering competitive wages at all of its locations. You can also find more job opportunities here.  

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