ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Restaurants are struggling to hire employees and are asking customers to be patient as they try to fill the gap during service hours. The New Mexico Restaurant Association said statewide, restaurants are having a hard time hiring employees due to a number of reasons, including people wanting to stay on unemployment.

“Unemployment, unfortunately, right now is fairly lucrative. And people have figured out how to make that work for their lifestyles and so they’re not coming back to work,” Carol Wight, CEO of the New Mexico Restaurant Association, said. “Anecdotally, I’m talking to restaurants every day and they are having, I had one tell me yesterday that he had 26 interviews set up and only two people showed up. And one of them that showed up said he could come to work in September when the unemployments went away.”

Hiring signs can be seen at restaurants around the state. One sign at the Sonic on Bridge in Albuquerque is gaining attention on social media. It said, “We are short-staffed. Please be patient with the staff that did show up. No one wants to work anymore.” Wight said restaurants are asking her to share a similar message of patience.

“One thing that they’re asking me to tell folks is, you need to be patient when you go into a restaurant. Because we don’t have enough cooks, we don’t have enough servers. And so, you know, we’re doing our best to get to your table and your food may take longer than it did prior to the pandemic,” she said.

According to the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, the requirement for a person to be actively searching for a job to receive benefits is still waived. But, it said those benefits may be affected if an offer of suitable work is refused.

KRQE News 13 also asked if the department is able to track if and how many people may be abusing the unemployment system. In an emailed response a spokesperson for Workforce Solutions said:

“It is a federal requirement that claimants must be able and available to accept suitable work in order to qualify for unemployment benefits. This question is asked every week when completing their certification for benefits. A claimant would answer YES when asked this question if they are able and available, which includes the following:

  • They were physically able to do their work before they lost their job (and they lost their job/hours due to their own COVID-19 illness, their need to care for a family/household member with COVID-19, or their employment situation changed because of the COVID-19 public health emergency); OR
  • They are out of work temporarily due to an employer-closure related to COVID-19 and expect to return to their job; OR
  • They are able and available to work at least 20 hours per week – this includes any type of work for which they are qualified, including virtual (telework) and/or a job with flexible hours; OR
  • They are able and available for work if they are still currently working reduced hours.”

The department said employers can report a refusal of suitable work to the department on its employer account with the Unemployment Insurance Tax & Claims System.

Wight said the department also has a survey out to learn more about employers’ staffing situations. She said she has reached out to the department to figure out ways to help with the challenges restaurants are facing. Wight said other hiring challenges include kids not being back in school full time, making it hard for some to enter the workforce, and other potential employees leaving to other, more open states earlier on in the pandemic.

“A lot of folks have left New Mexico. Some of our most motivated employees that didn’t want to go on unemployment have left for Arizona, Texas, and Colorado. So, that’s a big problem. I’m calling that the opportunity drain because you know, we have the brain drain and our college students left. And now we have the opportunity drain that the motivated folks went somewhere else,” Wight said.