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Restaurants at full capacity struggle to get fully staffed

“Now Hiring” signs fill restaurant window panes across Pennsylvania as many restaurants struggle to hire back enough workers after the pandemic.

STROUDSBURG, Pa. — Though restaurants can now reopen to 100 percent capacity, many still aren’t 100 percent staffed due to a restaurant worker shortage.

“Now Hiring” signs fill restaurant window panes across Pennsylvania, but restaurants aren’t just hiring. As they return to full capacity on Memorial Day, many are desperately searching for workers.

"We have a joke going around now. If somebody showed up and they’re actually alive, ‘Great! Grab a pad and a pen and you’re hired,’” said Steve Ertle, general Manager at the Lounge at Baymont Inn in Stroudsburg.

Owners are struggling to accommodate the increase in customers. The problem is further exacerbated by the coming summer season.

“The tsunami of people coming out is going to annihilate us even harder than COVID because there is no staff,” Ertle said. “We need people the most now. This is our biggest time of the year.”

Leisure and hospitality jobs in Pennsylvania rose 83 percent between April 2020 and April 2021, according to data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

Companies large and small are attempting to lure potential employees with benefits and bonuses.

Applebee’s offered free appetizers for job applications at a nationwide May hiring event.

Wawa is offering a $500 signing bonus for new employees and a free Shorti hoagie each shift.

The Lounge at Baymont Inn, meanwhile, is offering servers free bar training.

“We’re offering good money. More money,” Ertle said. “The money is out there. The pay is out there. The people are just not coming out.”

Ertle testified last summer before the state House Majority Policy Committee on how to help restaurants survive the pandemic.

Now, he said, even those who do survive may not make it past the worker shortage.

“I’ve been on the phone with numerous owners, numerous managers, listening to them cry to me and saying, ‘I can’t do it anymore. I have a 130-room hotel. I have one housekeeper,’” he said.

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