LANSING, Mich, (WLNS) – With the summer travel season hitting its peak, many small businesses are still struggling to meet the pre-pandemic levels of staffing.

Data from the Great Lakes Bay Michigan Works! said that restaurant employment is 11% of what it was in February 2020.

Inflation has been hitting the industry especially hard.

“We had 100 employees and the day I sat there with a huge bag of cash and cashed all their paychecks out for them so they didn’t have to go to the bank or wherever,” said Timothy Tharp, the owner of the Checker-Grand Trunk Properties and Pub. “I mean that was probably the most heartbreaking day I’ve ever experienced in business.”

Tharp still remembers the toll the early days of the pandemic had on the hospitality industry. An official Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association said 10,000 hospitality jobs were lost between February and May.

While business owners like Tharp work to keep the lights on, there’s a swell of challenges still ahead

Despite the obstacles, industry leaders are determined to see a recovery.

Amanda Smith is the Executive Vice President of the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association.

Along with investing in renovation and technology, Smith said specialty and basic skill training will help prepare the workforce and enhance the customer experience.

“We need to show people how to be employees, how to be good team members, communicative, responsive and put them on a path forward,” said Smith.

Some restaurant owners said as prices continue to rise for ingredients, that cost may make it to your bill.

Another challenge ahead is offering competitive wages as the state may soon see a quicker increase to the minimum wage.