Tri-State restaurants struggling to compete in ‘wage war’ for low-skill jobs

The young generation is bullish on work, but they’ve got options, and that’s a problem for local restaurants.

Tri-State restaurants having trouble attracting new employees

CINCINNATI (FOX19) - As business starts to pick back up at Tri-State restaurants, their owners say filling service roles has been a struggle.

Kristen Hellkamp likens the competition for low-skill workers to warfare.

“What we’re seeing right now is a wage war,” Hellkamp told FOX19 NOW on Thursday. “We’re seeing unprecedented wages to get someone in the door, and then we’re seeing retention bonuses like nothing we’ve ever seen.”

Wendy’s, for example, is offering not only free meals, but a 401k, tuition reimbursement and health insurance.

Antwand Yett, 18, is searching for a job right now.

“Our generation, we’re the hardest working, I feel like,” Yett said. “We always want to work.”

But Yett’s case is an example the problem writ large. He recently worked in a restaurant, but now at just 18 he’s after a bigger payday.

“I prefer a warehouse job, because I feel like they pay more, and it’s easier,” he said. “I mean, I’d rather work in a warehouse than a restaurant.”

Now some local restaurants with ‘Help Wanted’ signs out front are facing a shortage.

“We’re on the websites trying to get people to come in and advertising that we’re hiring,” Jeff Schoenling said. “Had a flag outside. Signs on the door. Just not getting a lot of people dropping off applications.”

Schoenling owns Crossroads Bar & Grill in White Oak. It’s a popular sports bar, but he says existing staff has had to pick up the slack and fill in shifts until new help arrives... if it ever does.

Schoenling places some blame on the pandemic.

”I just think parents don’t want their kids bringing COVID home, so they’re not they’re not sending them out,” he said. “We’re just not getting the young kids we normally get to come in and apply.”

Schoenling says he’s now offering his employees insurance benefits in an effort to compete in the job market. Still, the search for workers continues.

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