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As local restaurants and bars reopen, some find workers are scarce

Published: Mar. 24, 2021 at 8:59 PM CDT
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - While restaurant owners are eager to get back to normal, many are having a tough time getting the extra help. The COVID-19 pandemic is partially to blame along with the current unemployment benefits.

Restaurant owners say the staffing pool is not what it used to be. One local owner, Jonathan Griffin of Rathskeller Rockford says the local eatery had to cut back on its serving food hours as recently as this week due to staffing issues.

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Posted by Rathskeller Rockford on Monday, March 22, 2021

Griffin says, “It’s always been difficult to find qualified people in Rockford, to work kitchen jobs especially. Now I’m not finding anybody, like zero in my inbox, which is very rare.” He is one of the restaurant owners that says the pool of candidates is even smaller than pre-COVID times, as many laid off workers are now choosing to get away from the hospitality field.

“A certain amount of people are no longer activelly looking, you know they may be on unemployment and going back to work means they lose their unemployment,” Griffin says.

Patrick Alberto of Octane RKFD in downtown Rockford also has a small staff. He says he is blessed that most of the essential staff made it through the shut down caused by COVID-19. However he could always use extra help. When reaching out to the public, he received no bites. Alberto says, “I sent out some feelers on our social media looking for kitchen help and just for dish washers and part time chefs. We did not get a single response.”

When asked if that shocked him, “Not really.”

Alberto believes the hospitality industry is a hard sell. However now more than ever, loyalty to your employees is essential to keep them around in this consistently changing world. Alberto says, “It starts from the top. They have to feel that they’re working with you as opposed to working for you.”

While restaurants are trying to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, owners say there is still plenty of optimism to go around. “This is virgin territory for me and I’ve been in the industry for a long time. We’re just trying things, trying to pivot and do things in a smart way. We’re kind of hoping for the best,” Griffin says.

Restaurant owners say it makes sense that many former employees want to stay on unemployment for the time being, as the recently passed American Rescue Plan provides an additional $300 in weekly unemployment benefits.

Nevertheless, if you are looking for a job you are encouraged to reach out to hiring restaurants on their websites and social media sites.

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