As sales slowly improve, Ohio’s restaurants and bars now face another issue that threatens ongoing COVID-19 pandemic recovery efforts: lack of employees.
Ohio Restaurant Association President and CEO John Barker believes the intentions behind continued federal and state stimulus benefits are good, but a consequence is a lack of available employees as the state eases COVID-19 restrictions and customer traffic increases.
Locally, several restaurants have classified ads posted searching for servers and cooks.
“Unemployment is an issue. There’s no question about it,” Barker said.
“The intention by the government, both at the federal and state level, was to take care of people who are displaced and very much in need. It was the right thing to do. The problem we have now is these are looking like they’re going to be extended all the way through the fall. On top of that, people are getting big stimulus checks. And in some cases, they may be making more money staying at home than going back to work. And so, it’s a combination of factors.”
A Brooklyn restaurant manager said in an interview with WEWS-TV in Cleveland that customer complaints center around the lack of staff and the business struggles to even find potential employees to interview.
“Whenever we do receive complaints, it’s rarely about anything other than the fact that we’re understaffed,” Tommy Walsh, manager at Dina’s Pizza and Pub, told the television station. “The second thing is that when the stimulus checks were released, you just saw a significant drop off of employees. In addition to that, the unemployment that’s been extended.”
Aside from stimulus checks and extended and higher unemployment benefits, staffing shortages also result from employees changing industries, while others are reluctant to return to work because of COVID-19, according to the ORA.
Restaurants have taken steps to retain employees, including internal rewards programs and culture changes. Establishing career path options, tuition reimbursement, paid time off options and other incentives also are part of programs aimed at countering the issue.
Despite staffing troubles, sales growth for the industry in Ohio was better in March than at in time in nearly a year, according to the ORA. Restaurant sales grew by 36% year-over-year in March.