East Lansing restaurants see workforce changes ahead of MSU semester

EAST LANSING, Mich. (WILX) — East Lansing’s population is set to explode as students return for the 2022-23 school year.

Many businesses wonder how they will handle the additional customers.

The Albert EL Fresco Outdoor Dining Room allows for more seating for downtown East Lansing residents, but the problem is having enough helpers to serve everyone.

An estimated 30,000 students are returning to campus. With high schoolers returning to class and college students not applying eagerly, businesses are understaffed.

Business owners said they wanted the students to stop – and they wouldn’t mind if they also took an application while there.

Calli Stahl, with Barrios East Lansing, has spent countless game days supporting white and green, but this year she has returned to her home ground.

“This is my first year of graduation,” Stahl said. “So kind of seeing it from a different perspective is going to be really fun.”

Stahl knows how crowded it gets once students return to campus. That’s why she’s been in turbo-hiring mode for the past few weeks — but there’s a problem.

“It’s difficult to have a lot of people. The summer was actually a lot slower than last year,” Stahl said. “It was a bit difficult to maneuver with such a small staff and a lot of new faces too.”

She receives applications, but far from the number she wants or needs.

“Our kitchen has suffered a bit. We also have a hard time recruiting people who don’t really want to do entry-level jobs,” Stahl said. “They just want to like serving right away, but they don’t really have the experience.”

This is something that other managers have seen as well.

“It’s definitely better than six months ago,” said HopCat general manager Bryan Ponke. “We’re actually getting pretty selective with hiring right now, which is good. In the winter we had to take whoever we could, but now it’s pretty good to choose.

He said they were making it work, even with posts left open, but some things stayed in place – like takeout orders. It’s another source of income that they didn’t have before the pandemic.

“I think this fall is going to be like two, three years ago when we didn’t have the pandemic,” Ponke said. “And I think the football season is going to be crazy this year.”

Short-staffed or not, both managers said it was going to be a great season.

“I’m just excited to have this whole place packed,” Stahl said. “I think it’s going to be a good time.”

There are only a few weeks left to enjoy the Albert EL Fresco area. Businesses said they were keeping their seats until the very last minute.

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