DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Employees at restaurants in the Miami Valley are working more shifts and longer hours to keep up with the holiday season rush, as the restaurant industry’s staffing shortage wears on.

Wheat Penny in Dayton has a core group of employees filling in the gaps, but COVID-19 and seasonal illnesses have them back to short staffed.

“Over the last six weeks, we’ve gotten closer to being where we want to be optimally, but with people being out, that’s just thrown it away,” Wheat Penny owner and chef Liz Valenti said.

Valenti said the restaurant’s been adapting by training staff for other positions.

“A couple of our servers, they are bar backs, they work the host stand, so it’s really cross-training people so that if we do have people out, we can get those shifts covered,” Valenti said.

Ohio Restaurant Association president John Barker said restaurants are adjusting in other ways too.

“We see a lot of restaurants opening late, maybe not opening for lunch, we see places closing early,” Barker said. “Even places like coffee shops we see only opening in the morning. Which intuitively makes sense, but, you know, coffee shops need to be open more than that to make money and survive.”

With 575,000 open jobs in the foodservice and hospitality industry nationwide, Barker said the industry’s attention has turned to keeping current employees happy and offering better benefits.

“You have to open up every day and serve great food, offer great hospitality, but to do that, you have to have good staff, and you got to take care of that staff first,” Barker said.

Barker said even through the ups and downs of the pandemic, new restaurants are opening around the state.

“You kind of look at that and go wow, that’s pretty optimistic in this environment, but people just believe in the future,” Barker said.

Restaurant owners are still asking for patience from their customers, as they try to provide the best service they can.

“Independent restaurants, we’re doing our very best,” Valenti said. “We are thin on staff, we’re tired, but this industry is what keeps us going, we want to be part of it and we want to be here to serve you.”

In 2022, the ORA will be starting an initiative to help restaurants improve their workforce and will introduce a new “Restaurant Ready” training program.