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Restaurant owners reflect on the industry over a year after the pandemic began

According to the Texas Restaurant Association, the state's restaurant industry currently has around 170,000 open jobs.

ODESSA, Texas — The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the landscape of our day-to-day lives. It has also impacted the service industry harder than ever.

Restaurants across the country were forced to close as an attempt to slow the spread of the virus, leaving hundreds of thousands of people out of work. We aren't in that position anymore, but despite being open for a while now, and those jobs returning, restaurants still haven't entirely recovered.

The question you may have asked if you've been out to eat recently is, "where are the workers?"

According to the Texas Restaurant Association, the state's restaurant industry currently has around 170,000 open jobs, with 91% of operators reporting that they don't have enough staff to get to 100% capacity.

Alejandro Barrientos, restaurant chef and co-owner of Curb Side Bistro, expressed his concern for people in the business and asked for patience from the public.

"People are sick or being called out," said Barrientos. "We have moms that work with us, and their kids are going to school, and they get a notice that someone from their school had been exposed, so they have to take some time off. Shifts where we normally have four or five people, now we only have two, so it's just super super crazy. We want to thank you guys for the support."

According to the TRA, there was a shortage even before the pandemic. Lower pay and childcare are two big factors in why people were leaving the industry. 

A lot of restaurants have bumped employee wages to lure people back, but the TRA notes it hasn't made a huge dent in the need.

Many restaurants, like Cancun Bar and Grill, had to learn how to adapt to the circumstances

"It used to get packed all the time, full house every night, almost," said Victor Martinez, a server at Cancun Bar and Grill. "Then when COVID hit, people started to stay home and quarantine. The business died down a lot, so it was us having to maintain hope for people to come by for us."

Martinez has been a server at the bar and grill for about 3 years. He told NewsWest 9 the business now isn't what it used be. Luckily, he said he and his co-workers have been able to keep their jobs.

"We have loyal customers and loyal workers here, and that is something not many places have and we are lucky to have," said Martinez.

According to leaders at the TRA, there's a lack of workers at every section of the food supply chain. This includes workers in production facilities, to truck drivers, to staff inside the restaurant. Officials said that restaurants are looking to become more efficient with technology, but they cannot lose the customer experience.

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