Restaurants, fast food chains struggling to fill jobs in post-COVID economy

Cook Out is one of the fast food chains offering incentives to attract workers.

Intown restaurants and fast food chains are struggling to find employees after the pandemic shutdown.

Fast food joints like Cook Out are offering $12 an hour, bonuses, raises, and health insurance to attract employees, but it’s not just the fast food industry that’s facing staffing issues.

Karen Bremer, president and CEO of the Georgia Restaurant Association, said restaurants across the state are short 50,000 to 70,000 workers.

“Restaurateurs are struggling to find workers. Many have reduced hours and days open due to worker shortages,” Bremer said. “Some are offering signing bonuses, guaranteed schedules, and higher hourly wages.”

Robby Kukler, a partner with Fifth Group Restaurants, said the labor shortage is preventing his company from reopening one of its restaurants – Alma Cocina in Downtown. Fifth Group planned to reopen the restaurant this month but has been unable to hire a management team.

Its other restaurants have staggered open hours, with only two restaurants open seven days a week. “We are trying to be strategic about when will we do business,” Kukler said. “But it also comes down to when your staff can work.”

Due to the pandemic, he said, “there are a lot of people around the world who are thinking about life. I think people took opportunities to change careers or try something on their own, or just can take a little more time off this summer.”

Fifth Group has implemented a referral program, signing bonuses, and increasing wages, but it’s still not attracting workers, Kukler said

Mitchell Anderson, who owns MetroFresh in Midtown, said he’s also been having trouble finding workers, including a cook.

“I have posted on several platforms, I’ll get limited interest with even fewer qualified people,” Anderson said. “I’ll make appointments for people to come in for an interview and 90 percent of the time they don’t even show up. It’s super frustrating and ultimately may lead to shorter hours for the restaurant if I can’t fill the position soon.”

Collin Kelley contributed to this report.