MCHENRY, LAKE COUNTIES, IL — Restaurants across the Chicago area are getting hit hard by the newest COVID-19 woe for the service industry. Bars and restaurants forced to lay off employees last year amid a state shutdown are now having a hard time bringing staff back on.
John Macrito, owner of Grinders Ale House in McHenry, is thinking about offering signing bonuses to draw in staff, according to the Northwest Herald.
“I’m afraid to expand my menu because we can’t staff,” he recently told the newspaper.
This Friday, the state of Illinois will move to its “Bridge to Phase 5” stage. In this phase, indoor standing area occupancy at restaurants and bars will increase to 30 percent. Outdoor standing area occupancy will increase to 50 percent, up from 25 percent.
And in less than a month, the state is on track to fully reopen, which means there will be no capacity limits in place at bars and restaurants.
Locally, two popular restaurants with spacious patios in the far northwest suburbs dealt with obvious staffing shortages this past Saturday afternoon. One was requesting diners on its spacious patio to go inside to place orders with the bar. Another simply closed off its patio since the business did not have enough staff on hand. Meanwhile, the small indoor bar area was packed.
In Chicago, restaurant job postings jumped by 100 percent in March, which is typical for this time of year as hiring spikes ahead of summer. But this year, applicants are down 50 percent compared to right before the pandemic, according to Crain’s Chicago Business, which used data from hospitality job site Culinary Agents.
Crain’s reports restaurants are scrambling to hire. Some businesses are handing out benefits or bonuses, while others are upping pay and getting creative in how they hire bartenders, waitresses and cooks.
Helen Gountanis, owner of Gojo’s Café in Waukegan, said a full reopening is welcomed by customer-starved restaurants, according to the Lake County News-Sun. But she also says her business has still struggled to find staff.
“We’re struggling to find employees,” she said. “Some are still afraid to be so close to people. Others are making enough (collecting) unemployment.”