Help wanted: Restaurants struggle to find workers
Ultimately, King’s Sandwich Shop owner Kyle King could run his business on his own and with someone else.
Since her grandfather, Harley King, started the business in 1957, it has retained the same family and small business spirit. Typically, at this time of year, King will have between six and nine employees.
Lately, however, he’s led it with just four.
âI’m still tough and doing my best,â King said. “I understand that everyone is in the same position and making adjustments, but it’s difficult.”
King’s is just one of many restaurants and fast food outlets facing a labor shortage.
The lack of employees forced them to reduce opening hours and sometimes to close the dining rooms. Almost all said they had done their best to recruit employees, including increasing wages.
It didn’t always help.
In fact, it’s getting worse and worse.
âWe tried every avenue,â said Carrie Robinson, Iola’s Taco Bell assistant manager. âWe ran ads. We posted on social media. We have organized hiring events. We have registrations. Instead of being open full time, we’ve reduced breakfast and increased our closing hours, except on Fridays and Saturdays, which are busier. If we don’t have enough workers, we will close the hall so as not to stress our employees.
Normally, Taco Bell in Iola has around 26 employees. They went down to 10.
Many of them are middle school and high school students. This means that Robinson and other managers generally allow a great deal of flexibility in planning. She also understands that school comes first, so it can be difficult to find the balance between school and work.
Robinson lobbied Taco Bell officials for higher wages and was allowed to increase the starting wage to $ 8.50 an hour, far more than the Kansas minimum wage of $ 7.25, which was the previous starting salary.
But just about every other local business has increased their wages as well, making it difficult to compete.
âIt’s a problem everywhere,â she says.
The A&W restaurant has one of the highest fast food starting salaries in town, at $ 9 an hour, said regional general manager Jim Gribble.
This has allowed them to maintain a nearly full staff, but like Taco Bell, most of its employees are students and are not always available to cover shifts.
This forced him to close the dining room earlier at least once. As a rule, they can change the schedule. Managers work overtime to compensate.
âIt’s an ongoing thing,â he said. “I don’t see a lot of nominations, and the last three interviews I’ve done, no one has shown up.”
During the pandemic, A&W changed the way they deal with steering wheel controls. Staff are posted outside to deliver orders directly to a vehicle, rather than to the driving window. During peak periods, they’ll even walk from car to car to take orders on a tablet, rather than using the intercom system.
âThe adjustments we made made our drive-thru much faster,â said Gribble.
And when that happened, people started to tip employees. Gribble did not change his rate of pay because of the tips. Tips are divided among employees, but management is not included.
The COVID-19 pandemic has particularly affected the hospitality sector.
Restaurants and bars have been forced to close indoor restaurants for weeks. Some have adapted by offering take-out and delivery options.
The reopening of the dining rooms was a gradual process, as seating was often limited.
Now, many companies have returned to an increased number of seats. The problem is the staff, as the waiters can’t always accommodate a full dining room.
At a local establishment this weekend, the lone waitress warned of waiting at least 45 minutes. It took almost an hour.
Iola’s Pizza Hut has not reopened its dining room since it closed at the start of the pandemic.
It’s because of the staffing, said manager Gary Young. Typically, Pizza Hut employs around 22 people. There are only 13 or 14 left.
âThere really aren’t any candidates,â Young said. âPeople have to work longer. “
As a result, Pizza Hut closes at 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. It’s much earlier than before. Take-out and delivery are always available.
They also increased the wage from minimum wage to $ 8 an hour.
Customers are generally understanding, Young said, but sometimes they are frustrated with the short hours and slow production and delivery times.
âIf we hire more people, we’ll get everything back to normal,â he said.