Restaurants offering fewer reservations, server-less ordering due to continued staffing shortages

BROOKLINE, Mass. — If you’ve run into trouble scoring a reservation at your favorite restaurant, it may have something to do with continued staffing shortages. Restaurants across Massachusetts are finding ways to make it work without enough people working.

This means some places still aren’t able to seat every table, leading to fewer available reservations. More and more establishments are now giving guests without reservations the option of ordering and paying through an app at the table.

“The guest will order like they’re ordering home takeout online,” said Josh Ziskin, chef and owner of Punch Bowl in Brookline. “Then we have the support staff, like food runners and bussers, who can bring food and drinks directly to the table with no server.”

Ziskin, who also owns La Morra in Brookline and Heritage of Sherborn, said the server-less experience is not ideal but an option to not turn guests away. He said Heritage of Sherborn is now regularly using the Toast app in situations where people don’t have reservations. Guests can order directly to the kitchen after scanning a QR code on their phones.

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“We have to keep the lights on. It’s hard to say no. Where do you draw the line on service and experience?” Ziskin questioned.

Ziskin told Boston 25 News he’s having an especially difficult time hiring staff at his suburban Sherborn location because it’s not accessible by public transit.

“We went from college kids to high school kids,” he said. “It’s just a battle to get people.”

Bob Luz, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, said the end of several unemployment benefit programs in early September did not boost staffing levels like some had hoped for. He told Boston 25 News that many restaurants were also anticipating that kids returning to school for full-time in-person learning would bring more staff on board.

“A lot of women left the workplace, and we think a lot of it to do with the fact that schools were so inconsistent with their schedules,” Luz told Boston 25 News. “We felt we would hopefully see a resurgence of women coming back. That hasn’t happened.”

Luz pointed out another factor he believes is playing a role in staffing levels. He said the combination of baby boomers retiring at a high rate and generations below them having less of a population entering the workforce is contributing to current shortages.

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