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After a year of pandemic operations, Doc's Backyard Grill owner Charles Milligan felt things were finally looking up. His Sunset Valley business had survived a temporary closure and transitioning to an online-order business model. By March the slow holiday season and the winter storm were behind him.
But the typically busy spring season hit a snag before it could even begin. Restaurant job applications tend to pick up around March, when outdoor dining is popular. Milligan and his managers reached out to each of the 93 applicants who came in through the jobs site Indeed; 10 responded to interview requests. Of those, three came in. They were good applicants, and Doc's hired them. When it came time for orientation, however, only one person showed up. "That's when we knew we were in trouble," he said.
Doc's isn't the only restaurant facing a hiring crisis. Across Austin—and the country—restaurants are struggling to rebuild their teams after a devastating year that hit the hospitality industry especially hard. "With the reopenings, a lot of businesses were starting from scratch," said Alice Cheng, founder and CEO of the hospitality jobs site Culinary Agents. "They weren't just looking for one or two people. They were sometimes looking for a whole new staff."
Milligan knows he is not alone in his predicament because of the number of "Now Hiring" signs he's seen around town, from Chuy's and Tumble 22 to Cover 3 and Jack Allen's Kitchen. Easy Tiger, which recently opened a new location in East Austin, is currently hiring for 22 positions, from dishwasher to assistant general manager. In the last 24 hours, 64 Austin restaurant jobs have been posted on Indeed, including at Iron Works BBQ, Whisler's, Kalimotxo, June's All Day and Counter Culture.
For Milligan, the reason is obvious: the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill that President Joe Biden signed into law in early March, which extended weekly $300 federal unemployment benefits through early September.
Charles Milligan, owner of Doc's Backyard Grill in Sunset Valley, posted this sign at his restaurant amid a hiring crisis. (Charles Milligan)
AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at Indeed, said these benefits likely play a role in restaurants' hiring crisis, but it is impossible to know how big with the data currently available. She also cited other factors. At this stage of the pandemic, hiring appears most difficult for in-person jobs, suggesting that exposure to COVID continues to be a concern among job seekers. The restaurant industry also has a high percentage of women workers, who may be unable to return to work because of ongoing childcare and school closures. "I think that also is a specific barrier to the restaurant industry," she said.
Patrick Watson, senior economic analyst for Dallas-based Mauldin Economics, suspects pandemic protocols—the enforcement they require—may also discourage job seekers. Although Texas Gov. Greg Abbott lifted the statewide mask mandate in early March, many local restaurants have maintained a masking requirement. Because people have to take off their masks to eat and drink, restaurants often require constant enforcement of the rules, putting employees in the unenviable position of dealing with customers who may be resistant or even assaultive. "Of course people don't want those jobs," he said.
In an attempt to address these issues, Milligan offered a $250 referral bonus to employees. He also cited increased tips over the course of the pandemic, which have helped his servers average $20 to $25 an hour.
This type of creative benefit is increasingly common among restaurants, which may not have the money to raise wages. "In the best of times, restaurant profit margins are slim," Konkel said. But flexible shifts, signing bonuses and dining discounts may help woo job seekers while keeping costs low.
In the meantime, restaurants are in a bind. Without workers, they may have to limit their hours or capacity, exacerbating the risk of closure. If they close, there may not be jobs available for unemployed people when their benefits run out or tables available when customers feel ready to return to their pre-pandemic dining routines.
Still, Cheng is optimistic that restaurants will soon reach a hiring tipping point. "If businesses are busy and quite frankly if there's money to be made … people will make those decisions (to return to work)," she said.
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A week after Texas added two congressional seats and California lost one, state officials reported a population decline in 2020 for the first time in the Golden State's history.
California fell by over 182,000 people from January 2020 to January 2021, dropping almost 0.5% to cap out at around 39.5 million people. It is still the nation's most populous state.
For over thirty years, California has seen more people leave than move in from other states, state officials said, with 6.1 million people moving out and 4.9 million coming in last year. Immigration and births kept California growing, but the state saw a shrink in international migration in 2020 due to COVID and the White House's hold on visas.
Of the steady flow of ex-Californians moving to other states, more are moving to Texas than any other state. Many are relocating to Austin, which has been labeled a "little California" by billionaire resident Elon Musk and continues to grow astronomically.
Meanwhile, California cities including Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose and San Francisco saw a population decline.
With immigration and state migration on the decline, the Golden State was also hit with a spike in deaths- 51,000 people died from COVID in 2020, and all but seven of the state's counties saw death rates higher than the three-year average.
Still, the California Department of Finance said a "slightly positive annual growth" can be expected next year as the state recovers from COVID deaths and political repercussions.
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The sun is out, and thousands of Austin FC fans will be as well as Austin FC goes to Kansas to play Sporting Kansas City at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday.
There's plenty of pub partners to choose from, but here's a few watch parties to help you get in on the action.
Los Verdes watch party at Hopsquad Brewing, 2307 Kramer Lane
Fun fact: @LosVerdesATX brings sleeping bags and they basically live in the grain room between games. They'll emerge from time to time for a cup of coffee and to see if the #verde keeper kit has been released. pic.twitter.com/6HKUEHUFWY— Hopsquad Brewing Co. (@HopsquadBrewing) May 3, 2021
Ol' faithful: Hopsquad Brewing is hosting its weekly watch party, complete with beer, food trucks and the possible release of a new michelada, in partnership with Austin FC fan club Los Verdes. Admission is free, but make sure to bring a lawn chair so you can watch from the brand-new LED screen.
Austin Anthem North at 601 Whitestone Blvd, Cedar Park
Live up North? Looking for a place to catch the match? Join Us this Sunday.— Austin Anthem (@AustinAnthem) May 7, 2021
⚽ #AustinFC 🆚 #SportingKC
🗓 Sun, 5/9. 6:30pm
🍺 $1 off pints with @AustinFC gear and #verde Beer
🌮 Van's Damn Tasty Tacos & Ronburguesas $6 Fried Tots pic.twitter.com/zHRp4H2MIQ
Austin Anthem's 1,000+ audience at watch parties have been legendary, but they're splitting the group into two this week. The North Watch party will be located at Whitestone Brewery, with $1 off discounts if you bring Austin Anthem's signature beer or wear Verde. Tater tots and tacos will be on the menu. RSVP here.
Austin Anthem East at Haymaker, 2301 Manor Road
This week’s beer-storming also brings #LosZanates back to where much of the #AustinFC supporter movement was formed: @HaymakerAustin.— Austin Anthem (@AustinAnthem) May 4, 2021
⚽ #AustinFC 🆚 #SportingKC
🗓 Sun, 5/9. 6:30pm
🐻 2310 Manor Rd
The #Verde watch parties for all of #Austin. Join us!https://t.co/EdiBruetIG pic.twitter.com/7NYsEFLxCf
Austin Anthem is returning to its roots at Haymaker Austin, where much of the group originated. Beer, sandwiches and more will be on the menu for all of East Austin. RSVP here.
Head to a bar near you
If none of these watch parties are quite the right fit for you, 31 bars will be streaming the match in the Austin metro as part of the Austin FC Pub Club.
- Austin Eastciders- Barton Springs, 1530 Barton Springs Rd.
- Austin Eastciders- Collaboratory 979 Springdale Rd. Suite 130
- B.D. Riley's Mueller, 1905 Aldrich St. Unit 130
- The Bon Aire, 9070 Research Blvd
- Bouldin Acres, 2027 S Lamar Blvd
- Casa Chapala, 9041 Research Blvd Suite 100
- The Cavalier, 2400 Webberville Rd Unit A
- Cover 2,13701 N Highway 183
- Cover 3 Anderson Lane, 2700 W Anderson Ln Unit 202
- Happy Chicks, 214 E 6th St.
- Haymaker, 2310 Manor Rd.
- High Five- Anderson Ln, 2700 W Anderson Ln Unit 101
- Local Post Pub, 7113 Burnet Rd
- Pelons, 802 Red River St
- Play on 6th, 620 W 6th St
- Pluckers, various locations
- Revelry On The Boulevard, 6215 N Lamar Blvd
- Revelry- East 6th, 1410 E 6th St
- Rusty Cannon Pub, 730 W Stassney Ln Unit 120
- San Jac Saloon, 300 E 6th Street
- Shiner's Saloon, 422 Congress Ave Unit D
- Shooters Billiards 620, 11416 N FM 620
- Taco Flats, mulitple locations
- Twin Peaks, 701 E Stassney Ln
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