Restaurant owners face severe staff shortage: 'Everybody is hunting for the same people'

Michael Schwarz, the general manager of Port Canaveral’s gem, Fishlips Waterfront Bar & Grill, says they used to have 160 employees.  Now, they are down to just 90.

Another issue is keeping employees they have.  Schwarz says he has a bonus program that he hopes will help. That’s a tactic that other local business owners are trying out.

"So what we have done for all our non-tipped employees is, basically when they sign on, any of our cooks, they get a $200  bonus that goes into a savings account for them," said Albert Steiginga, a Long Doggers Co-Founder.

Steiginga says all six of his restaurants have had to reduce their hours and cut back on their seating. Right now, he says they are short 24 cooks. His goal is to keep the employees he has happy.

"We want people to stay with us because everybody is hunting for the same people," Steiginga said.

Economists say the shortage is driven by generous unemployment benefits, home-schooling demands for working couples, and simply the fear of catching COVID-19.

"If you are able to maintain a certain percentage of your income because of a $1,400 check, or this additional unemployment check, then I think it reduces the urgency that some people might feel about getting back to work," said Sean Snaith, the director of the Institute for Economic Forecasting at the University of Central Florida.

But it’s not only a problem with shortages. There is also a problem with job retention.

According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, April's unemployment rate is at 6.1 %. In April of this year, 824 people left their jobs. That is compared to 569 people who left at the same time last year. 

"The types of jobs that are seeing the most difficulty in hiring, it is not like if you wait a month or two months or three months you are not going to be able to find work as a server somewhere in a restaurant or as a bus person. You know, those jobs will be available," Snaith said.

"I have only got rooms for so many people, and as long as I have the people to wait on them, we will wait on them," Schwarz said.

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