Competing with unemployment checks, local restaurants are struggling to fill open positions

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FAYETTEVILLE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Across Bull and Bear’s three locations around Onondaga County, owner Mark Bullis is struggling to fill 25 open positions.

Bullis explains to NewsChannel 9, “If you take 25 miles from this site in Fayetteville and go on Indeed, and look up line cook, you’ll get over 100 listings.”

He’s right. 119 to be exact.

In a survey conducted by the New York State Restaurant Association, 89% of restaurants claimed to have lower staffing levels compared to without the pandemic.

It’s a stark contrast considering the unemployment rate: 7% in Onondaga County, which translates to about 15,000 people out of work, according to January data from the New York State Department of Labor.

Bullis says, “We do have some team members out that haven’t returned yet. We’d love them to have them back. I think between fear and other things, they’re okay to stay home for now.”

The primary ‘thing’ business owners suspect is unemployment.

Each week, a person on unemployment can be paid up to $500 from New York State and because of the recent passage of the American Rescue Plan, $300 additional from the federal government.

Restaurant consultant Bud Loura said, “Why would they go to work for 40 hours and if they can stay home and watch Netflix. That’s the challenge.”

Loura stood alongside Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in February at a Camillus restaurant to tout the stimulus bill, says the bill has more good than bad, but not all good.

“We asked that in the Restaurant Act, when they add the $300, that it go to people that go back to work, not stay home,” Loura said.

Loura warns customers that if their favorite restaurant is closed an extra night a week or hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic hours, it’s because they likely don’t have enough workers to cover the shifts.

Deanna Cohen, a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Labor, wrote to NewsChannel 9: “The New York State Department of Labor continues to proactively provide information to New Yorkers about jobs and job resources that are available to them. In addition, we have introduced a number of initiatives to help them transition back to work including a new Partial Unemployment Insurance program, online training opportunities, and virtual services which are critical to getting New Yorkers back to work and moving New York forward.”

She explained that the federal government requires unemployment recipients to search for work, which is intended to be validated weekly through the internet or over the phone.

“Not having enough cooks to seat all of those seats means we can’t have 75% capacity unless we forfeit service,” Bullis explains.

Bullis warns that customers may also see menu prices increase to cover overtime and other pandemic-hangover costs. He says, “Nobody is trying to get rich off this. What we’re trying to do is survive.”

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