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Ohio restaurants continue to face staffing shortages

waiter serving food at a restaurant
Drazen Zigic
Most restaurants in the state say they don't have enough staff.

Restaurants in Ohio are continuing to experience worker shortages, a problem that predates the pandemic. A recent poll from the Ohio Restaurant Association found that 87% of restaurants in the state are understaffed according to President and CEO John Barker.
"The staffing shortage has been in place now for even before the pandemic," Barker said. "The pandemic made it worse for sure."

Restaurants are in a tough spot right now. 56% say sales were down in August compared to previous months this year. And most restaurants have also seen an 11% or more increase in the cost of labor.

Barker said restaurants are still having a hard time finding employees.

“We believe we’re about 20% short, and that number is unlikely to change," Barker said. "So what that means is that everyone is sort of competing with every other industry.”

Barker said more than five million people left the U.S. workforce permanently due to the pandemic. He’s advising restaurants to ramp up their employee benefits to attract and retain more workers, including paid time off.

“I know it’s a burden financially, but it really pays off right because people are more loyal to that business when they have some paid time off," Barker said. "And obviously things like some health insurance and maybe vision coverage, things like that, which are hard for small businesses to do on their own.”

Barker said they work with small restaurants to help offer these benefits at discounted rates. He’s also seeing a lot of restaurants close a few times a week to combat employee burnout.

"I think that's why you're seeing restaurants close on certain days, making sure that they give those employees breaks, you know what I mean, and days that they know they're going to have off," Barker said. "So if you work at a restaurant and you have to pick up a little bit of extra hours, but you know for sure you're off every Sunday and Monday - that's a way for people to make sure they can step away."

Even despite all of this bad news, Barker still has hope for the restaurant industry.

"I would say there still are restaurants opening. What I find really encouraging is that people are looking at the world the way it is today, and they're saying, 'Okay, how can I change my business model to be able to be open and operate even in this environment?'"

Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media.