Not enough cooks in the kitchen

We’ve all heard the expression “too many cooks in the kitchen,” but these days it’s quite the opposite for restaurants throughout the region. Ever since the COVID-19 Pandemic hit, food and beverage venues have suffered labor shortages in both the front and back of the house.  

Bartenders, servers, bussers, cooks, baristas, food runners, and dishwashers are all hard to find now, leading to almost half a million restaurant jobs around the country that remain unfilled.  

In the Four Corners region, most bars and restaurants continue to be understaffed even now, three years after the pandemic closed all public venues for weeks in the spring of 2020. Because of the lack of staff, many places have been forced to limit days or hours of operation, and some have simply gone out of business or never reopened in the first place. But where did everyone go? 

According to an U.S. Chamber of Commerce article, more than 50 million people quit their jobs in 2022, in what has been referred to as “The Great Resignation.” This phenomenon, however, might be “better described as ‘The Great Reshuffle’ because hiring rates have outpaced quit rates since November 2020. So, many workers are quitting their jobs – but many are getting hired elsewhere.”  

Hundreds of thousands of workers are now seeking out jobs with improved work-life balance and flexibility, and numerous businesses now offer “remote work” – something that is not possible in restaurants. “You can’t be a busser from home,” pointed out Mark Heaney, Food & Beverage Director of the Sky Ute Casino Resort. “The food service industry is also hard work. People are on their feet all day and work long hours, nights, weekends, and holidays. So, turnover is naturally high, but in the 30 years that I’ve been in this business, I’ve never seen the lack of staff that we’re seeing today.”  

Since the pandemic, lower paying jobs requiring in-person attendance have had a much harder time keeping staff. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the accommodation and food services industries have had twice the quit rate of all other industries since July 2021. 

Another factor creating the national labor shortage is that less people in general returned to the workforce after businesses reopened in 2020. Some of this loss can be attributed to the deaths of over 1 million people (about the population of Delaware) during the pandemic, but whether through death, illness, or long-term disability, COVID-19 itself certainly strained the labor market. 

In fact, according to a McKinsey & Co. report, the disease reduced the workforce by 2.6% and has doubled the number of sick days taken by workers in the U.S. The rate of retirement was also a component, as 2.4 million more workers retired than what was expected since the pandemic began. 

Regionally, the high cost of living and lack of affordable housing and childcare has driven many lower-paid workers away, forcing them to move to other areas of the country. 

Regardless of the reasons, there seems to be no end in sight to this labor shortage in the near future. Currently, there are 9.6 million jobs available throughout the country, equaling 1.6 jobs for every one person looking to get hired on. 

Locally, among the Permanent Fund, Growth Fund, and Casino, there are 82 job openings posted, some of which have been open for more than 200 days. In the F&B Department of the Casino Resort, Rolling Thunder Grill is down two line cooks and three servers, while Willows is down one line cook, two servers, and two baristas. “A lot of people don’t understand how many people it takes to run a restaurant, especially if it’s open seven days a week,” says Heaney. “People also need time off, take vacations or get sick. Just for Rolling Thunder, Willows, Seven Rivers, and the Banquets department, we need 77 employees. Right now, we only have 60.” 

The Sky Ute Casino Resort is offering sign-on bonuses for line cook positions and for other key jobs, so if anyone is interested in applying, please visit our careers page at or call 1-970-563-1311. 

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