Restaurateurs Can't Find Hires As Unemployment, Stimulus Checks Keep Workers Home

Finding enough workers to fill jobs is proving to be a challenge for some local restaurant owners.

Video Transcript

- A big surprise in the job market tonight. The Labor Department says hiring surged across the US in March, employers adding 916,000 jobs. Many of those in the hospitality sector as businesses like restaurants reopen. But finding enough workers to fill those jobs is proving to be a challenge for some local restaurant owners. CBS 2's Marie Saavedra found out what's behind the dining dilemma.

MARIE SAAVEDRA: What is it like opening a new restaurant as the pandemic drags on? Steven Hartenstein will tell you.

STEVEN HARTENSTEIN: Exciting, scary, and brutal.

MARIE SAAVEDRA: He is the managing partner of Luca Osteria and Bar, opening in Oak Brook in May. He has 100 jobs to fill. But at a Friday hiring event, we only saw a few people trickle in. It is far from the large pool of laid-off restaurant staff he expected.

STEVEN HARTENSTEIN: And now that so many people are getting vaccinated and feeling more safe, we thought fantastic. But it's not that way at all.

MARIE SAAVEDRA: You might think people in the industry would be clamoring to get their jobs back, but restaurateurs tell us that is not the case. Many people have left the industry or they found new ways to cover those bills.

STEVEN HARTENSTEIN: The unemployment checks and the stimulus checks are keeping people at home.

MARIE SAAVEDRA: With the state's dining capacity at 25% and Chicago's at 50%, staying healthy also remains a major concern.

DR. TEOFILO REYES: Part of it is the vaccine, for sure. I think that will make a lot of people much more comfortable to go to work that are reticent.

MARIE SAAVEDRA: Dr. Teofilo Reyes is with Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, which represents restaurant staff in Chicago and nationwide.

DR. TEOFILO REYES: You're coming into work. You're trying to serve people food. And on top of that, you're supposed to be policing their behavior with the mask wearing, and then depending on them for tips afterwards. And so it's really a challenging and uncomfortable situation.

MARIE SAAVEDRA: So when will employees come back? When they're ready. In the meantime, Hartenstein will do what it takes to open Luca's doors. In an industry that's faced so many hurdles, what's one more?

STEVEN HARTENSTEIN: We're going to get people in some way, somehow. We're networking every way we can. And the word of mouth will happen.

MARIE SAAVEDRA: In Oak Brook, Marie Saavedra, CBS 2 News.