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Hospitality industry faces challenge of filling job openings as it bounces back from COVID-19 pandemic

According to the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association, more than 100,000 people in the hospitality industry were displaced due to the pandemic.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As North Carolina eases restrictions on restaurants, bars, and more, the hospitality industry is hiring in North Carolina.

Restaurant groups in the Charlotte-area, such as the Mason Jar Group, 5th Street Group, and FS Food Group, all posted notices on social media this week that they are hiring.

FS Food Group hosted a job fair Tuesday at Mama Ricotta’s Italian Restaurant.

Rémy Thurston, marketing director for FS Food Group, said FS Food Group is looking to hire 150 to 200 people to work at its restaurant and catering concepts. These include Little Mama’s, YAFO Kitchen, Midwood Smokehouse, Paco’s Tacos & Tequila, Mama Ricotta’s Italian Restaurant, Plate Perfect Catering, and a new restaurant coming soon in Plaza Midwood.

“We’re just excited to welcome people back into the dining room, and in order to be able to do that effectively and to give people the service that they have expected from us over the years, we need to staff up,” Thurston said.

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The restaurant group is looking for enthusiastic people who love food and want to grow their careers, Thurston said. Even if people don’t have experience, Thurston said the restaurant group will train new employees.

With so many businesses in the hospitality industry hiring all at once, Thurston said it has been challenging to find employees.

“We’re paying like way above minimum wage, with all the benefits and flexible hours,” he said, “and I mean, you name it, we’re pretty much trying to offer it.”

Lynn Minges, president and CEO of the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association (NCRLA), said it’s an issue the hospitality industry across the state is seeing as it rebounds from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re having some challenges recruiting new employees, training new employees, and getting them back on the job,” Minges said. “So, it’s a great time to work in the hospitality industry, plenty, plenty of opportunities, not nearly as many people competing for those spots.”

Minges said about 103,000 people in the North Carolina hospitality industry workforce were displaced due to the pandemic. She said many found work in other industries in the last year, meaning business owners may have to expand their recruiting pool.

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“They have to go out now and recruit and train a whole new talent set, so that does create some unique challenges for our industry right now,” Minges said.

If people are looking to find a job in the hospitality industry right now, Minges said wages are at an all-time high.

“We encourage folks who love to serve, love to greet people, love to provide quality customer service and hospitality to step up and look for a career in our industry,” she added.

FS Food Group is hosting another job fair from 2 to 4 p.m. on April 1 at Mama Ricotta’s and will continue the job fairs at some of the group’s other restaurants for the next few weeks as needed.

“Finally, now we’re getting back to what we love,” Thurston said, “and we couldn’t be more excited to finally get there.”