Restaurant restrictions relaxed however employees onerous to search out in western Pennsylvania

“Help Wanted” signs in restaurants in the area are as noticeable as menus as companies seek to hire enough workers to serve more customers under relaxed indoor eating restrictions.

Restaurant owners and managers were urged to find enough staff to stay open longer and serve customers on time. The problem has worsened since Governor Tom Wolf raised the indoor dining limits to 75% capacity while respecting social distance requirements.

“It’s hard to find people,” said Joann Manns, manager of the popular Lupi & Leo restaurant on Route 30 in Hempfield.

A lack of kitchen help forced the Manns to close on a weekday.

Too often, those who apply for vacancies want to work on their own terms, Manns said. This includes claims that are “under the table” or payable without papers and taxes – an illegal arrangement that would allow an employee to continue receiving unemployment benefits.

Others make appointments for interviews, often several times, but never show up, Manns said.

“That’s the biggest challenge – attracting people,” said John Longstreet, president of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, a Harrisburg trading group.

More and more people are either returning to work in restaurants and bars in the seven-county Pittsburgh area or are being hired. Employment in this sector has grown slowly over the past three months, reaching 66,100 jobs in February, up from 63,1000 in December, according to the State Center for Workforce Information and Analysis.

While this trend may seem like a healthier industry in the area, 21,000 jobs are down from February 2020 – a month before pandemic restrictions and government shutdowns came.

The employees at the Parkwood Inn, a reliable employee in the southwest of Greensburg, know for sure that they need help. You were looking for help signs along route 119 and on the busy ramp to route 30.

“We’re looking for people across the board,” said manager Mike Nicolai.

So far, the effort has not aroused much interest.

The Parkwood Inn is in the enviable position of having customers. It’s all about being able to serve them.

“There is a general shortage of applicants,” said Nicolai.

Antonelli’s Event Center in Irwin is also looking for workers, manager Joey Marshall said.

“Chefs are really hard to find,” he said. “In the 15 years I’ve been in business, it hasn’t been that hard to find people.”

He found a pool of willing workers: high school students. However, they are limited due to youth work rules and other activities in which they are involved, including sports and extracurricular clubs.

Even Eat’n Park, the legendary Pittsburgh-based family restaurant chain, isn’t immune to hiring problems. A company-wide recruitment event will be held Tuesday for each of its restaurants, aiming to fill 750 positions in locations in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia.

Unemployment benefits don’t help

The labor shortage in the food and beverage industry is not limited to western Pennsylvania, said Longstreet, whose organization has about 2,700 members. It’s nationwide, even national.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, restaurants and bars created 176,000 jobs in March, up from 309,000 returned to work in February.

Although he believes the problem will be short-lived, Longstreet said that one factor working against restaurants filling vacancies is improved government unemployment benefits.

The American bailout plan, passed by the Democrats in Congress and signed by President Biden last month, provides the unemployed with additional weekly unemployment benefits of $ 300. This bonus payment will continue into September.

Dave Magill, owner of Mogie’s Irish Pub in Lower Burrell, said that extra money for the unemployed is responsible for the labor shortage.

Betting on that is short-sighted, said Antonellis Marshall. A good waiter could make up for it, a waiter or waitress could make up for it in no time.

“I think they could make $ 300 on a good night,” Marshall said.

Longstreet said he believed part of the problem was due to Wolf closing indoor dining for about seven weeks last spring and then increasing capacity restrictions until stores closed again over the winter holidays – one of their most lucrative times of the year.

With uncertainty about how many hours they could have worked last year, some employees left the industry, Longstreet said.

“People were afraid to come back to work,” he said.

This problem has not harmed Stephanie Hernandez, who together with her husband Alfredo own El Vacquero Mexicano in Ligonier.

“We opened in August in the middle of a pandemic,” said Hernandez.

You have so many family members and friends working at the Diamond’s restaurant that they are not susceptible to the problem of attracting workers. But when they ventured outside of that circle, Hernandez said they found the same problem that other companies face.

“You want to be paid under the table,” said Hernandez, shaking his head.

To open again

The old Spitfire grille in South Greensburg was recently closed for several months. Even so, owner Kay Kim and manager Nancy Pastorius said they could keep most of their staff. A great help in this endeavor was the use of federal funds from the federal program to protect paychecks, which required recipients to maintain a certain number of staff despite lower income.

The restaurant closed on December 10 when the state again restricted dining indoors before the holidays and restricted business to take-out service.

“It made us blind,” said Kim.

It reopened on Wednesday – but not because the governor expanded the indoor dining capacity, Kim said.

When the weather was better, they could camp on spacious outdoor terraces with 154 seats. Indoor restaurant dining remains limited due to social distancing requirements, she said.

Magill said his difficulties in hiring workers predated the pandemic and would worsen as restaurants get higher capacity and more customers come. He wants to hire six or more workers.

“My people put in extra hours, extra time, and we’re understaffed,” he said. “We’re short every shift, seven days a week.”

Because workers are so limited, Magill said he hired people with no experience.

“That’s the only pool that’s available,” he said.

At Sam’s Wall Tavern in Aspinwall, owner Sam Sieber said he worked as a cook, dishwasher, host and waiter, filling gaps in the schedule when trying to hire staff.

“It definitely burdens everyone,” Sieber said, explaining that his restaurant staff had declined by about 30%.

He’s been trying to rent for months. So far, he said he had only found one person to work in the kitchen and recruited a friend to help.

“I only ran ads wherever I can,” he said. “We tried to lure them with a higher hourly wage, but I know people who offer even more than I do and who can’t get people either.”

Pete Tolman, owner of Iron Born Pizza in the Strip District and Millvale, said he was facing the same problems.

“We’ve been trying to keep people busy since the beginning of the year,” said Tolman. “Now more and more people are coming out, so the pressure builds up.”

Tolman said he paid to post jobs on Indeed and Craiglist and also featured chef, server and host jobs on social media.

“It just makes daily life a little more hectic when we’re busy,” he said. “It’s always nice to have the right number of hands.”

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