As customers return to restaurants as more people get vaccinated, the restaurant industry in the greater Houston area is dealing with a major staffing shortage.

“We are so severely depressed in our workforce. You are seeing restaurants operate at limited hours, you’re seeing them not opening at all, you’re seeing all types of things,” said Cameron James, the president of the Greater Houston Restaurant Association.

Cameron says pre-pandemic, the number of restaurant workers in his region reached 300,000. Now, he says those numbers have dropped to below 250,000 workers.

“You saw grocery stores coming in and poaching our employees,” said Cameron. “You saw Amazon, you saw third-party delivery drivers, so we lost a lot of our workforce over the last year.”

James says you also have to factor in unemployment benefits and stimulus checks to the loss of staff.

“It’s a really rough time right now, and honestly, it couldn’t come at a worse time to have these hiring issues because we are finally seeing a surge in business,” he said.

Longtime Houston restaurant owner Irma Galvan of Irma’s Original in downtown Houston says she’s missing half her staff.

“I get tired, but I have to keep on going,” said Galvan. “It’s very serious and very scary because we have nobody that wants to work.”

Galvan said she has posted employment ads, but no one responds.

“I go in the kitchen, I walk the floor, I take out plates, check my customers and I love doing what I’m doing, but it’s getting to the point where I don’t know what to do,” Galvan told KPRC 2.

Galvan’s restaurant sits right next door to Minute Maid Park. In addition to her lunchtime crowd, her restaurant fills up on game days. Thursday is the Astros home opener.

“Hopefully, when the Astros start playing, people will start looking for a job,” she said.

According to James, some restaurants are closed and others are operating with limited hours.

“The wait time on your order might be a little longer or you might not see your waiter or waitress as much as you typically do because that restaurant is hurting,” said James. “I will ask that the public show a little grace right now for restaurants.”