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SAN DIEGO — A new dynamic is shaking up the service industry: restaurants need employees — and they need them now — but the supply of applicants has nearly dried up.

“It’s kind of running joke now, because all of us have been doing this and they say, ‘Hey we are hiring for these 4 jobs,'” Nick Apostolopoulos, the owner of 619 Spirits in North Park. “We laugh and say, ‘You and everyone else.’”

“Now Hiring” signs are up all over town and restaurant owners are even going to the measure of recruiting workers from restaurants from down the street, luring employees away with bonuses and raised wages. 

“This is the craziest I’ve ever seen it,” Apostolopoulos said.

Economists believe workers have decided to stay home because of fear of getting sick or another shutdown, and they’ve had the ability to explore other opportunities with support from extended unemployment benefits stretching out to September.

With vaccinations ramping up and COVID-19 cases falling, customers are flooding back in the doors — but getting workers back to meet the demand has been challenging. Employers have voiced optimism for the summer months, when they expect both a surge of business and an increase in seasonal workers or people ready to re-enter the workforce.