COLUMBIA, MO (KMIZ)
Bars and restaurants have been struggling to keep a full staff since the start of the pandemic, that issue continues a year later.
People walking and driving through downtown Columbia may notice more 'Now Hiring' signs than usual. Matt McGee, the owner of On The Rocks bar, says he's posted a large sign in the window of his establishment in hopes that more people will apply.
“Applications have been pretty very slim and I would figure that somewhat to the employment benefits are still being paid by the government," said McGee.
Many bartenders and servers had to step away from their jobs when the pandemic first began, as many bars and restaurants had to shut their doors during the shutdown. Those employees working in the food service industry had to file for unemployment due to not having the ability to work. Many of those individuals received more income from unemployment than they typically would have if they were at work.
Nic Parks, the owner of the Silver Ball, said he's still seeing unemployment statements from old employees who won't return back to work. As he believes, they're making more money off of unemployment checks than they typically would working at the bar.
“I’m seeing unemployment statements and I’m like well come back to work," said Parks
Unemployment rates in Missouri have been on a steady incline over the past month. Since the beginning of March, the number of claims filed each week has continued to increase. The first week of March show unemployment claims at 7,411; as of this past week in April weekly claim filings have increased to 11,373. According to the current numbers data shows that within just a week filed claims have increased by over 1,800.
McGee says he's had to rehire a lot of his old staff members in order to keep business going. His current staff is completely made up of his old employees. Some of which have experienced job loss due to the pandemic and are happy to come to work and help out where needed.
“I’ve reactivated a lot of my former employees, several of them already had other jobs before COVID happened or also went onto their professional careers following their college graduation last spring but a few other people that have remained in town have still been willing to pitch in and help out, so we haven’t hired any new employees, but we have reactivated about 70 percent of our staff from last year,” said McGee.
Nic Parks, says his issue isn't finding enough staff, but rather having to overstaff due to COVID-19 restrictions. Parks says he's had to increase his typical number of staff members by 30 to 40% in order to enforce COVID-19 safety regulations.
“Our staffing is up 30 to 40 percent normally let’s say on a Saturday night where we would have 10 or 12 people we have like 18, so our labor costs is the real hit. I could see labor costs play into the inability of bars making money right now, breaking even is the goal. That is what I think I’m seeing is that generally, I think I would be fine with finding enough people to work, but I have to have 30 to 40 percent more people because of the restrictions, so that’s really the problem,” said Parks.
The Silver Ball currently has about 35 staff members, usually, only 20 to 25 employees are needed. With record staff levels, Parks still is struggling to have enough staff in order to open at his normal scheduled hours. Typically, the Silver Ball would open at noon in warmer months leading into the summer, which allows for more business; but Parks says staff availability doesn't allow for it this season.
This time of year we would open at noon because it’s warmer and people want drinks and slashes during the day, but we just haven’t had enough staff and availability to do that yet,” said Parks.
Parks is worried about the summer approaching as many of his staff members are college students and are expected to return to their hometown. Unlike Parks, McGee says he believes the summer will bring on more applicants who are interested in securing a summer job.
"I would expect for that to pickup somewhat here as we approach the summertime people who are looking for summer jobs and kind of wrapping up their semesters,” said McGee.
McGee is continuing his efforts to hire new staff with online ads, and advertisements at his bar. He says he is expecting more applicants as the summer is approaching because more people will be looking for summer jobs. So far business and livelihood have picked up in downtown Columbia, which McGee says he's grateful for.
“Things have very much improved and we keep seeing week to week improvements in terms of both the levels of business and the individual earnings that employees are making and just the overall feel downtown,” said McGee.