Restaurants on Hilton Head Lacking Help, Looking for Employees

FILE - In this Aug. 19, 2013 file photo, a Philadelphia business displays a help wanted sign in its storefront. The September jobs report coming Friday, Oct. 2, 2015, will provide clues to the job market’s health that go beyond the unemployment rate. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

They cook and serve you food, hopefully with a smile.

Right now on Hilton Head there are less smiling faces behind the bar and in the kitchens of local restaurants. Its a problem that seems to be growing.

With 10 restaurants like Wise Guys and Posideon, and two more on the way. the SERG Restaurant Group is still the biggest employer on Hilton Head Island, but those numbers aren’t as big as usual.

“We are about 8% short, thats 70 slots open,”
said Alan Wolf, Director of Operations SERG Restaurant Group

70 slots open means more overtime for the folks who are working, to keep the food moving for customers.

“We are paying the overtime so we are still investing the same amount of man hours out there, its just more expensive to do so,” said Wolf.

Its not just a SERG group problem.

At a recent employment expo where there were more hospitality businesses searching for workers than there were prospective employees.

The Coastal Restaurants and Bars Group alone was looking for 100 workers.

“We are on waits when we shouldn’t be on waits because we have tables available but we don’t have staff to work.” said Brendan Reilley, Coastal Managing Partner “Skilled labor is the hardest to find, servers we can get that from college students for the summer, back of the house past an entry level that hard to find.”

So whats the reason?

“The workforce housing on Hilton Head and somewhat now in Bluffton its been an issue,” explains Wolf.

Tightening of the rules on I-9 programs for immigrants and a lack of affordable housing means the logos aren’t the only signs on the wall for many Hilton Head hospitality businesses.

“We feel like there’s a solution out there. Its not going to happen overnight, but everybody perhaps is going to have to give a little bit in terms of our expectations, in terms of traffic or how many people we allow in an acre from a density standpoint, but there are solutions its going to take us all working together.”

The Town of Hilton Head has promised they will do a “future survey” on the affordable housing issue.

The SERG Group says they want to have a “seat at the table”.. to help leaders come up with a solution, and get more folks working.

“We feel there’s going to be a tremendous challenge if we are going to continue to have restaurants opening that we have to hit head on both as a business community and as well as the tourist community and people who live here,” explains Wolf. “We have to be commitment to finding solutions that work.”

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