Local restaurants face staffing shortages

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WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — Restaurants are slowly getting back on their feet after the pandemic.

The industry faced many challenges with many closing because they couldn’t stay afloat during shutdowns. But now, there’s a new problem: staffing shortages.

If you’re ordering your lunch at Circles on the Square, you’ll probably notice a sign that reads “We are short staffed. Please be patient with the staff that did show up. No one wants to work anymore.”

Brenda Sokolowski owns the popular eatery in Wilkes-Barre. She says the sign is an understatement.

“One person showed up, was gonna come in for an interview and never came back. The other four didn’t even bother to respond,” Sokolowski said.

Sokolowski says she’s put ads everywhere asking for help.

“We don’t get anybody to apply for them. And the people that do apply, and the few and far between, you call them to set up an interview and they don’t show up,” Sokolowski said.

Now these staffing shortages are not just happening in Wilkes-Barre. It’s also happening in Scranton and all over NEPA. Managers say it’s not just the restaurant industry that’s being affected.

“Distributors that we use, our food sales. Right down the line there’s times when I can’t get simple items because that manufacturing plant is closed down for either lack of workers, because of COVID, for whatever reason,” Downtown Deli general manager Denise Leppo said.

Leppo tells Eyewitness News she’s noticed fewer applicants and also had interviewees cancel on her.

“I think people want to work, but then when it comes down to it, it’s almost as if we don’t have to right now. Summer’s coming, nice weather’s out. People might be still afraid of the virus,” Leppo said.

Sokolowski believes people are applying for jobs to fill the requirement for unemployment benefits to show that they’re looking for a job.

“I mean that’s the only thing that I can think of. Why would you actively go out and look for a job and then not show up and not take it if it’s offered to you?” Sokolowski said.

The Pennsylvania Office of Unemployment Compensation website states that due to COVID, work search and work registration requirements are suspended for those who need unemployment benefits.

Eyewitness News spoke with Sarah Desantis, press secretary of the Department of Labor and Industry, about what the cause for this trend might be. She says it’s based on other circumstances, like vaccine availability, comfort levels regarding going back to work, and childcare, as students are still learning from home.

Restaurant owners are encouraging people to apply to jobs. Without enough employees, some may have to close.

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