Another impact of COVID-19: Demand for employees in the hospitality industry exceeds workers

National fast-food chain Wendy's has immediate job openings and is paying a $250 bonus to new employees. RICK McCRABB/STAFF
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National fast-food chain Wendy's has immediate job openings and is paying a $250 bonus to new employees. RICK McCRABB/STAFF

If the last year wasn’t taxing enough on the hospitality industry, restaurant owners and managers now are dealing with another challenge: Finding employees.

Many locations have offered increased pay or even sign-bonuses to reach potential employees. John Barker, president and CEO of the Ohio Restaurant Association, said there are three possible reasons for this employee shortage.

He said during the outset of COVID-19 in early 2020 when Gov. Mike DeWine closed restaurants, those temporarily furloughed employees found employment elsewhere; then employees were concerned about contacting COVID-19 and because of extended and larger unemployment benefits some employees made more money staying home than working in the service industry.

Explore7 recent restaurant moves and dining updates in Butler County

Last week in Middletown, two downtown restaurants, Don’s Pizza and Fast Lane Subs, closed due to the lack of available employees.

Don’s Pizza, 1126 Central Ave., was open for two years and Fast Lane Subs, 1218 Central Ave., opened six months ago, said Jeri Lewis, wife of Scott Lewis of Triad Investments, which leases the properties.

She said both restaurants are owned by the same businessman and he couldn’t operate them effectively with five employees.

“It was a labor thing,” Lewis said.

She said the businesses were “doing well” and the owner was the “perfect tenant.”

Jim Manley, marketing manager for Fricker’s, which has several locations throughout the region, said he sees more restaurants for sale than ever.

“Sometimes that means a person is losing their life savings,” he said. “Their life dreams fail. This is a very difficult, very challenging time.”

As a way to connect potential employees with those in the hospitality business, the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce has launched a portal called Hamilton Amusement and Hospitality Association (HAHA), said Dan Bates, president and CEO.

He said those who apply for jobs may have their resumes seen by 60 local businesses. Because of that, Bates said, some “really high-quality candidates” have received more than one job offer, creating a bidding war for their employment.

He said those in the food and beverage industry who want to recruit and retain their employees may have to adjust the work culture and offer flexible work schedules.

“That’s the reality of the situation,” Bates said.

Another reality, some say, is that Ohio’s minimum wage of $8.80 per hour isn’t a living wage, considered the minimum income required to cover the basic cost of living. State law permits employers to pay tipped employees half that at $4.40 per hour.

Introduced by Rep. Brigid Kelly, D-Cincinnati, a state bill would increase the minimum wage to $10 in January 2022 with a $1 increase every year until 2027 when it would reach $15 an hour.

Unemployment rates in the state and local counties continue to fall.

Ohio’s unemployment rate was 4.7% in March 2021, down from 5.0% in February. Butler County’s dropped from 4.9% in February to 4.1% in March and Warren County’s fell from 4.6% in February to 3.8% in March.

At Fricker’s, Manley said, the key to keep employees is to treat them the same way managers want to be treated.

“The hours are unforgiving,” he said of the restaurant business. “You spend a lot of time away from your family.”

When asked about the challenges of retaining employees Manley recalled when a general manager and manager of a national restaurant chain dined in Fricker’s and they tried to “hire away” all the servers and bartenders.

Manley said Fricker’s purchases work shoes for cooks after their one-year anniversary and on employee birthdays the manager serves them and their families free meals.

“We obviously want to keep our folks,” he said. “But these are crazy, tough, difficult times. We treat them well, pay them fair wage so they show up the next day.”

Caption
Wendy's, a national fast-food chain, has immediate openings and is advertising on banners and on marquees. RICK McCRABB/STAFF

Wendy's, a national fast-food chain, has immediate openings and is advertising on banners and on marquees. RICK McCRABB/STAFF
Caption
Wendy's, a national fast-food chain, has immediate openings and is advertising on banners and on marquees. RICK McCRABB/STAFF

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