Help Wanted: Wisconsin restaurants forced to cut hours amid severe employee shortage

Help Wanted: Wisconsin restaurants forced to cut hours amid severe employee shortage

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GRAFTON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- For the last year, restaurants across Wisconsin have been asking for help and support from their customers in getting by and paying their bills. But now they need a different kind of help: help wanted.

Mike Stoner, owner of Milwaukee Ale House Grafton, posted on Facebook this week that he was cutting back his restaurant's hours, not because of a lack of business but because of an employee shortage.

"I don't have enough staff to cover everything. How am I going to fix that? I don't know," Stoner said.

The Wisconsin Restaurant Association is seeing this issue statewide and nationwide, according to president and CEO Kristine Hillmer. The problem began before the pandemic but became exacerbated when restaurant workers were laid off last year.

"We believe that we've lost a lot of industry professionals to other jobs who were able to pick them up and get them employed," Hillmer said.

Stoner said some people still aren't comfortable coming to work in a restaurant during the pandemic. He's struggling to even get people to come in for interviews. He made the difficult decision to close Wednesday mornings and Sunday nights.

"That alleviates, at least to a certain extent, some of my employees -- especially in the kitchen and the front of the house -- that are having to work 10, 12, 14 hour days. They're getting burned out and I don't want to lose anybody," he said.

Stoner said he doesn't want to lose the great employees he has, some of whom have worked with him for the last 10 years.

"This is my family. I got to take care of them," he said.

Hillmer cites other factors, such as parents not having adequate child care with some schools still closed and workers staying out of the workforce while they're able to collect unemployment. She said immigration as a factor, as immigration has been slowed across the country and people who rely on J-1 work visas are not able to come work.

"All of those things combined are really creating a really bad storm for restaurants. You also have to remember that pre pandemic, the restaurant industry was having a difficult time ... finding good help," Hillmer said.

Stoner said he has posted on Craigslist, Facebook, Handshake and other avenues to try and find employees. He's currently looking for cooks, servers and bartenders, and encourages people to apply online.

"We'll call you and set up an interview. If you show up and you've got any kind of experience in the kitchen or you've been a server before or a bartender -- I have no doubt you will have a job the next day," Stoner said.

Getting people vaccinated is one big fix, Hillmer said, because it will get students back in school and get daycares back open. She said parents should also encourage teenagers to get first-time jobs and said the restaurant industry is a great place to start.

"One in 3 working adults in this country started out in the restaurant industry. It's a great way to learn working as a team, showing up on time -- soft skills that are necessary for every job in the economy," she said.

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