Slammed by COVID, Restaurants Now Face Labor Shortage | New


What seemed to be sweeter than one of his signature desserts has turned sour for local restaurateur Josh Poling, and that only exacerbates the predicament those at his company face as they try to get out. of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I offered a bonus of $ 1,000 to any employee who could go 30 days without being sick or late for a shift,” said Poling, owner of Hickory & Oak restaurant, of his strategy to combat the growing work challenges he and his colleagues face. “I had three guys who did it, and only one got it.”

Poling’s work issues are all too common for restaurants, which have been rocked by the pandemic and are still not fully reopened.

Ironically, the very public aid intended to help idle workers is contributing to the problem. Improved unemployment benefits and stimulus checks may make staying home a more attractive option than waiting tables or steak grills.

“It’s very frustrating as a private business owner,” Poling said. “It is heartbreaking that people can earn more with unemployment than they can work.”

This reality is not lost on Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles. The Republican was in Bowling Green Wednesday as part of his “restaurant roundtable” tours with farmers and restaurateurs across the state.

“I hear there’s a labor shortage, especially with the perks that some people are getting,” Quarles said during a stop at the Western Kentucky University Agricultural Show Center. “With the benefits granted by the government now, it is difficult to find people to work.”

Another local restaurateur, Keith Coffman, owner of Lost River Pizza, called the workplace a “huge problem” for his industry.

“It’s amazing how many people tick a box to keep their unemployment down,” Coffman said. “It’s a real problem. The government encourages people not to actively seek employment. “

While the difficulty in finding workers is a business issue for Poling and Coffman, it is a topic of political discussion for Quarles, who is seen as a rising star in the GOP and a possible candidate for governor in 2023.

Openly criticizing many of Gov. Andy Beshear’s executive orders linked to the pandemic, Quarles said the governor’s goal of lifting capacity limits on restaurants and other businesses once 2.5 million Kentuckians have been vaccinated is no longer not enough.

“We need a reopening date,” he said. “It’s time to eat out and support these local businesses.”

Statistics from the National Restaurant Association suggest that such support is needed. A recent NRA survey found that 110,000 restaurants and bars nationwide have closed permanently or long-term during the pandemic.

Almost 90% of full-service restaurants in the survey reported a decline in business, with revenues down 36% on average.

Poling has seen these difficulties firsthand, especially among smaller restaurants that are stranded by the current 60% capacity limit.

“Sixty percent is so arbitrary,” Poling said. “I have enough square footage to allow me to space people out, so it’s a little easier to get out of it.”

While government aid, like improved unemployment benefits, has been a hindrance for restaurateurs like Poling and Coffman, both are encouraged by another government program: the Restaurant Revitalization Fund which was introduced as part of the program. US bailout package approved by Congress last month.

This fund provides $ 28.6 billion to be allocated through the US Small Business Administration to restaurants and bars that have suffered revenue losses related to the pandemic.

“It’s a lifeline for restaurants,” said Poling, who said he planned to seek help.

Coffman said a new window driving and other strategies have helped Lost River Pizza survive, but he welcomes the federal help.

“I will continue,” he said. “Other industries have received all kinds of help from the government. Glad I can get some help. “

Mark Lord, district manager for the Bowling Green office of U.S. Representative Brett Guthrie, was at Wednesday’s meeting and shared that the SBA now has information online about the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

– Follow business journalist Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit

– Follow business journalist Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit

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