Local restaurants, bars now struggling to find workers ahead of relaxed COVID-19 restrictions

PITTSBURGH — Easing COVID-19 restrictions presents another challenge for restaurants, especially as the weather gets better: covering shifts.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s announcement of loosening the guidelines for businesses was certainly good news for bars and restaurants, as fewer restrictions means more customers.

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But finding those workers is proving to be more difficult than anyone could have anticipated.

Stinky’s Bar and Grill in Lawrenceville has been advertising for a wide variety of positions, but co-owner Valerie Dowds said they are seeing a consistent theme among many of the people interested in the jobs.

“They want to come in and interview, but they want to know if they can get paid under the table because they want to still receive unemployment. It’s a struggle to get people who want to work,” Dowds said. “Our kitchen people, who have been doing so many more to-go orders -- they need extra help.”

The latest relief package includes an extension of the $300 per week in enhanced unemployment benefits and $1,400 stimulus checks for most families.

However, Pa. Restaurant and Lodging Association CEO John Longstreet doesn’t see what is happening at Stinky’s as a long-term trend.

“I think they’re going to be back, but I think it’s going to take a little while for them to realize there’s now some security, there’s not going to be another shutdown,” Longstreet said. “They can look forward, be positive about it and I think they will be back.”

In the meantime, Dowds is doing everything she can to recruit workers -- such as raising their minimum rates for employees.

One thing most experts agree on is that there will be fewer restaurants and bars due to the pandemic. That means there could be more demand for the jobs that are available in the near future.