Increase in San Antonio visitors creates high demand for businesses amid staffing shortages

Downtown business is back at pre-pandemic levels, but service industry staffing isn’t

SAN ANTONIO – Downtown San Antonio and the River Walk were packed as businesses saw a boom last weekend, with large crowds coming out to enjoy Spring Break and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

It was a welcomed sight for the economy, but service industry staff still hasn’t bounced back from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I feel like everyone’s working a lot harder than we use to. There’s more tables. It use to be four-table sections and now we’re doing six-table sections. It’s a lot more for us management too, because we’re having to do every position,” Ashley Cavazos, manager at Rosario’s Mexican Restaurant said.

“We were prepared. We were a little bit understaffed, because right now finding staff is a little on the more difficult side,” Mary Sams, manager at Maddy McMurphy’s Irish Pub said.

Rosario’s and Maddy McMurphy’s Irish pub are just two of the places that were recently packed. Most places saw numbers they hadn’t seen since prior to the pandemic, according to the director of operations for the Mad Dog Restaurant Group Aaron Selinkoff.

“I think last week was the busiest weekend Mad Dog Restaurant Group has ever had ever,” Selinkoff said.

The spike of tourism is expected to only be the beginning. NCAA basketball Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games are in town through the weekend, while Fiesta officially kicks off after that and the Valero Texas Open starts the last day of March.

“We saw 65% hotel occupancy last year, which was great coming off a year when we were having much much less than that. This year we’re going to see hotel occupancy closer to 90%” said Richard Oliver, director of Partner & Community Relations for Visit SA.

Oliver said tourism is great for the economy, but that it will be difficult to keep up with. Back in 2019, 1 in 7 San Antonians worked in the hospitality or tourism industry -- that’s over 140,000 people. But as of right now, employment isn’t there yet again, Oliver said.

Rosario’s manager, Cavazos agreed, saying they only have about half the staff they are used to. And Selinkoff said while they have about 250 employees, ideally they would want to be around 300.

Both businesses said even though they don’t have as much staff as they’d like they’re not letting that stop them. They’ll continue to try and hire more, as well as pay current staff a little more in overtime.

About the Author:

John Paul Barajas is a reporter at KSAT 12. Previously, he worked at KRGV 5 in the Rio Grande Valley. He has a degree from the University of Houston. In his free time, he likes to get a workout in, spend time on the water and check out good eats and drinks.