RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A shortage of restaurant workers is prompting owners to search for people to fill shifts and keep the lights on. The industry is facing challenges as low wages and fear of catching the coronavirus keep potential employees searching elsewhere.

Coronavirus restrictions such as social distancing and mask use are still required but restaurants have been able to get more people in for dining than this time last year.

Restaurant owners say they are finding hiring new workers more difficult than ever before.

Marianne Mize at the Grapevine in Henrico says they’ve been having trouble hiring.

“There’s plenty of jobs out there right now,” Mize said.

Mize speculates some people may be still afraid of catching COVID-19 while working and others may be choosing to stay on unemployment.

The shortage isn’t just impacting sit-down restaurants, fast food locations are seeing shortages as well.

A Wendy’s drive-thru on Midlothian Turnpike displayed signs over the weekend reading, “Staff shortage, reopening at 3 pm.”

At an Arby’s location in North Chesterfield, General Manager Fred McCormick says they’ve struggled to staff the restaurant since last March. He also suspects unemployment benefits are keeping people from seeking a food service job on top of worries about contracting the virus.

“They don’t have to worry about COVID,” McCormick said. “I mean, we do all the process that we were supposed to do. We take care of our customers and our employees.”

The Virginia Unemployment Commission acknowledged a restaurant staff shortage and owners telling them it’s difficult to get employees to return. All the while mentioning that nearly 500,000 jobs are currently advertised on the Virginia Workforce Connection website. They were not able to pinpoint how many of those were for restaurants.

Mize says concerns should be decreasing now that a lot of people have already gotten their vaccines.