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Restaurant managers explain challenges of finding, keeping workers

FORT WAYNE - "Now Hiring." People of Northeast Indiana are seeing those words posted on businesses all over the region. It appears restaurants have been struggling the most to find help, with some even having to close inconveniently because of their lack of staff.

Now customers are feeling the hurt of the worker shortage, too. Just ask diner Steve Lindeman.

"I went to Steak-n'-Shake the other week and I was the only one in the drive up and I was going to put in my order and the lady said, 'I'm sorry we're closed and I said what do you mean you're closed? You're open 24 hours,'" He recalled.

The Steak-n'-Shake at 6019 Illinois Rd. has been closing during open hours because they're understaffed. A manager said they're currently under by 10 to 15 workers. That's half their crew. 

The manager said applicants are applying, but not showing up for interviews.

The Downtown Fort Wayne Taco Bell at 340 W. Jefferson Blvd. posted a sign in their drive-thru last week saying they were closing early due to being short staffed.

A shift lead there said they can only hold on to their new workers for a couple of months at at time. Until they can get a grip, they'll have to close early sometimes. 

So, what are we to make of all this? 

Northeast Indiana Works Director of Communication Rick Farrant explained that the worker shortage is due to the region's low unemployment rate of 3.4 percent. Northeast Indiana is an employee's market he said, meaning people can be selective about jobs and find better ones easily.

"If you're paying me $10 an hour for a job and I can walk down the street and get a job for $13 or $14 an hour why wouldn't I do that?" he questioned. 

We asked him what should restaurants do. 

"That's a simple question with a simple answer: raise the wages," he said. 

According to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, the accommodations and food services sector is the fifth highest employer in the region with 29,518 jobs, with 27,532 of those being food service jobs.

While a highly employed sector, it is the lowest paying one among the major industries. The average earning is $16,790 dollars a year.

Austin Powell, general manager at 5735 Coventry Lane Pizza Hut, said another solution is improving restaurant work culture. 

"Employees are leaving if they don't feel they're being taken care of," he said. "So you have to have a good culture in the restaurant. Employees have to feel valued and it's more than just the amount of money you're paying them. They have to feel like you care about them. They have to receive the benefits that aren't just money, but also flexible scheduling and good morale in the restaurant." 

Farrant concluded by saying restaurants have to make their positions feel less like just jobs, and give workers fulfilling careers paths.

"I think as a region if our restaurant as well as our strategic planners were able to create some career pathways so there were stepping stones within the industry to positions of more responsibility and positions of greater wages, we might be able to retain more of those workers in the restaurant business," he said.

Farrant emphasized that all industry sectors in Northeast Indiana are suffering from worker shortage. The problem is just amplified for restaurants.

 


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