Restaurants struggling from lack of workers

DAYTON — More than a year and a half after the COVID crisis hit, many restaurants around Ohio are still struggling to make ends meet. The Ohio Restaurant Association’s latest survey of its members shows 42 percent of them believe they will not break even in 2021.

John Barker, the association’s President and CEO, told WHIO-TV that the biggest problem restaurants are facing is lack of workers. “A lot of restaurants are not opening on certain days, they are closing early. We have some restaurants that are opening at three o’clock and staying open until 7 because they literally have nobody to work,” Barker said.

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The survey also found 51 percent of the association’s restaurants were raising pay to attract and retain more employees. Many are also offering signing bonuses for new workers.

Even with that, Barker said, many restaurants will be making changes to help deal with the lack of staff. “You are going to see where people serve themselves, put their own order in, get your drinks on your own. In fact, in more of our restaurants might use automation in the kitchens because there’s just not enough people,” Barker said.

Where did restaurant employees go?

Barker said many took advantage of financial help from the federal government and later looked for work in another industry or went back to school to continue their education. Some, said Barker, could not return because they lacked childcare for their kids. “Childcare was in place as a safety net for people but in some cases, they have closed and have not reopened. And so a lot of people responsible for watching their children really have no option,” Barker said.

Looking to the future, Barker said restaurants can apply for funding from the state if they can show losses during the pandemic. Grants are available from the Ohio Department of Development at their website - https://development.ohio.gov.