Vienna and Fairfax City cook up program to help staff local restaurants

A restaurant worker looks at order tickets (via Daniel Bradley/Unsplash)

The Town of Vienna and Fairfax City believe two cooks would be better than one when it comes to concocting a culinary workforce program to support their local restaurants.

The economic development teams from both localities have joined forces to develop a program that could provide job training or help businesses identify prospective, qualified employees.

The initiative is still in its developmental stages, the Town of Vienna Economic Development Division and Fairfax City Economic Development (FCED) told FFXnow. A survey to get input from local businesses on their biggest staffing needs and concerns is set to close today (Friday).

“We have been collaborating closely with our local restaurateurs to gain a deeper understanding of their staffing requirements and needs through a survey,” Vienna Economic Development Director Natalie Monkou and Fairfax City Economic Development Programs Manager Tara Bowery said in a joint statement. “Once these are clarified, we will have a clearer picture of the potential program’s scope and can begin to solidify the programmatic details.”

The localities started discussing the idea of a workforce development program focused on food service after observing similar challenges for their businesses during the height of the pandemic, which strained an industry where business longevity was rare and work precarious even before COVID-19.

According to CNN, there were about 72,000 fewer restaurants in the U.S. last year than in 2019, with one research firm projecting in February that another 1,000 restaurants could be gone by the end of this year.

Citing Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates, the National Restaurant Association says that, as of August, employment has nearly returned to pre-shutdown February 2020 levels, but hiring is still lagging for full-service restaurants. Earlier this year, about 62% of restaurants reported being understaffed.

Despite those nationwide trends, the FCED and Vienna Economic Development Division say their culinary scenes are “growing and exciting,” as showcased in regular Restaurant Week campaigns that they organize, respectively, in summer and winter and in the spring.

“Through these events and other economic development initiatives, our respective economic development agencies have learned more about our local restaurants and food-based businesses,” the agencies said.

Monkou and Bowery hope that, by combining resources and experiences with promoting businesses both locally and regionally, they can enhance the planned workforce development program’s impact.

“Our interest lies in forging partnerships with regional agencies, recognizing that collaboration amplifies the impact of our initiatives,” they said. “…We believe that joining forces will bolster the culinary workforce, ultimately contributing to the economic vitality of our communities.”

There’s no set timeline yet for when the program could launch, but with the survey closing today, the economic development leaders expect to refine their vision over “the coming weeks.”

“Our economic development offices will continue working together and with our respective business communities in the coming weeks to define critical aspects of the program and develop the program scope and timeline to support the needs of our local restaurant community,” Monkou and Bowery said.

Photo via Daniel Bradley/Unsplash