Multifaceted approach needed to address restaurant staffing shortage, local business leaders say

Knowledge Turner prepares food at Tano Bistro Thursday, April 21, 2022 in Hamilton. Tano is one of many restaurants that have limited days open due to staffing issues. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

caption arrowCaption
Knowledge Turner prepares food at Tano Bistro Thursday, April 21, 2022 in Hamilton. Tano is one of many restaurants that have limited days open due to staffing issues. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

BUTLER COUNTY — There’s no one fix to the restaurant staffing shortage that could, according to one industry report, last throughout 2022.

Several Butler County business experts have different ideas to help solve this complex staffing issue, including, as suggested by Joe Hinson, president of the West Chester Liberty Chamber Alliance, “a multi-dimensional” approach to attract and retain employees during these times of worker shortages.

Hinson said those in the food industry should recruit potential employees from local high schools, colleges, and trade schools. he also said “baby boomers” that have left the workforce should be contacted as they want to part-time work as a social aspect and “connect with people.”

He called that group “a forgotten generation.”

The staffing shortage in the restaurant industry predates the COVID-19 pandemic, though it exacerbated the issue.

Fairfield Economic Development Manager Nathaniel Kaelin said the restaurant industry isn’t alone in staffing shortages as just about every industry is experiencing them.

“One theory that I’ve heard repeatedly is that hospitality ― restaurant, hotel, etc. ― workers were some of the first to be laid off when the pandemic hit, and therefore those workers may feel that type of employment is more precarious than other sectors,” he said. “Restaurant work is not always the easiest, and with a tight job market where all employers are competing for talent, people may be able to find jobs in other sectors more easily than in the past.”

Though COVID-19 restrictions are lifting, there are still restaurants that haven’t yet reopened dining rooms, or restore full hours, “largely due to staffing issues.”

Fairfield Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kert Radel said he’s been showcasing the locally owned restaurants by taking their networking events to these establishments.

“What this does is, besides giving those businesses revenue right away from people visiting and possibly seeing their business for the first time, it’s also bringing up the point that, ‘This is a great restaurant, this is a great place, such as Rick’s Tavern, a fun place where you can work or someone else wants to work here.”

“We are showing our chamber members what these local businesses are about, getting revenue for them, but also is a good place to work, so if you know someone ―you got a son, daughter, nephew or niece ― this may be a great, fun place for them to work at.”

Greater Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Dan Bates said he and his staff developed a job portal for the hospitality industry after the chamber and others, including Tano Bistro’s Tyler McCleary, formed the Hamilton Amusement and Hospitality Association.

The portal is a single point of entry for job-seekers to apply to some 50 Hamilton hospitality businesses with a single application.

“It makes it much easier and less confusing,” he said for employers and job-seekers.

Bates said, though, that any employer needs to do four things to attract employees: be flexible with hours, training, offer competitive wages, and create an encouraging environment.

He said the wages and environment are especially important. He said competitive wages are needed “because if you don’t offer it, you’re just going to lose them anyway” to someone else. And The hospitality industry can be tough as some require a lot of physical effort, “but someone wants to be told at the end of the day that, if they’ve done a good job, they’ve done a good job. They want to be recognized.”

Hamilton Economic Development Director Jody Gunderson can’t say why restaurants are experiencing the staffing shortage as it’s a combination of things, as others have said, but said there is more competition for staff based on the fact new restaurants are opened across the region in the past year.

“Additionally, this region’s economy is very strong and I know that competition for employees is also tough in light manufacturing and other service sector businesses,” he said. “The good news is that businesses are becoming very innovative in ways to differentiate themselves as a place to begin or build a career.”

Fairfield will see several more restaurants open just in Fairfield. Dairy Queen, City Barbeque, and Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers are in various stages of development.

But filling jobs at restaurants will likely lean on the demographic the industry has frequently relied upon: teens and young adults.

“We may need to create opportunities for younger adults to enter the job market by creating greater flexibility in their scheduling which would allow them to continue participating in sports and other extracurricular activities,” said Gunderson. “My first job in high school, I worked 20 hours a week flipping burgers at McDonalds and I was still able to compete in sports year-round.”


WORKER SHORTAGE SERIES

The Journal-News continues to cover the local labor issues and current shortage of workers. Read more online at journal-news.com.