Restaurants offer incentives to attract more workers amid labor shortage

Updated: May. 24, 2021 at 11:30 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The hospitality industry is struggling to find workers amid an ongoing labor shortage, especially restaurants that are trying to keep up with demand as the economy continues to open back up.

“The restaurant industry is traditionally long hours, hard work and I think some people reevaluated and said, ‘I want to spend more time with my family,’ and then the other side of it is — we still have people on stimulus money right now,” said Shang Skipper, president of Mac’s Hospitality Group. “We understand why the stimulus is there, we are asking the state to enforce the unemployment laws.”

Some restaurants are starting to offer more incentives in order to attract workers back into the restaurant industry.

Mac’s Hospitality Group, which runs Mac’s Speed Shop, has started an employee incentive program that includes things like a paycheck bonus for hourly employees based on tenure, a referral bonus and a profit sharing program for hourly employees.

It also includes a $1,000 bonus for new kitchen hires who stay until Sept. 1. Mac’s Hospitality Group has four markets that have a big need for good workers — and Wilmington is one of them.

“Wilmington’s always been a challenging market with back of the house because of how many restaurants there are and the seasonality of everything, but it’s even harder this year because there’s just so many people still not working as a result of the pandemic.”

As of last week, three additional people were hired in the kitchen at Mac’s Speed Shop in Wilmington with the signing bonus program.

The Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar in Downtown Wilmington also needs back of the house workers, like line cooks. The restaurant has started an incentive program as well to bring in more staff in the kitchen.

“We have to take care of our employees just as much as we take care of our customers,” said RJ Sargent, the Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar general manager. “The employees that we have right now — which are a great bunch of people that have been working so hard for months — you know, everyone reaches their limit, so I think the best way to get people in here to help them out is offering the best of what we have.”

The Shuckin’ Shack is now offering a $13 starting wage, a four day work week and a $500 bonus after 60 days if you don’t call out more than three days during that time.

Sargent said before the pandemic, a good cook would make $11-$12 an hour.

“I think we’ve shifted away from that and just the economic growth that’s obviously come over since covid,” Sargent said.

The Shuckin’ Shack has had to get creative to keep up with demand.

“Our CEO’s going to come in and cook, our owner’s going to come cook all weekend, I’ll be in the kitchen,” Sargent said. “Restaurants right now — their managers are either in the back helping them get food out, out front still keeping the guests happy at the door and really just doing anything we possibly can to make sure that the people that are coming in want to come back.”

The restaurant does have to close on Mondays until it can hire more staff.

“What business owner wants to close, but at the end of the day, we got to take care of our people here,” Sargent said. “We can’t burn our people into the ground because in the long run, you’re not going to keep those great people.”

Sargent said that they are looking to fill about ten positions — five back of the house and five food runners/ hosts.

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