Even in a rebounding post-pandemic economy, Florida restaurants are facing staffing shortages. But a Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association event in the Sarasota area aimed to change that.
Hosted by Gold Coast Eagle Distributing in Sarasota, the May 18 event intended to connect those looking for work with employers in desperate need of workers. Gold Coast Coast Owner and CEO John Saputo said that’s important to get a critical industry hit hard by the pandemic back on its feet.
“Right now, tourism is booming at this particular point,” Saputo said, “but they can’t find enough people. Some of these restaurants have not been able to open for lunch., are having to have curtailed hours, are having to shut down for days at a time because they just don’t have the staff to work their stores.”
Saputo’s company, the regional distributor for Anheuser-Busch products, works with thousands of retailers in the region. That includes most restaurants and hotels in the area, so the health of his business relies indirectly on the ability to area restaurants to keep a steady flow of customers.
The shortage of restaurant and retail workers has caused alarm, with some businesses offering signing bonuses and even stipends just to show up for interviews. Many restaurants criticize the continued $600 weekly federal unemployment checks for making many workers choose to stay home rather than return to work for a minimum wage, which is even lower for tipped workers.
Others say it means restaurants should pay better wages and offer benefits.
While Saputo has been a prominent Republican donor in the region, the focus of this event was on connecting employers with workers in need of a job.
“We thought that this event would help them,” he said. “As a result of today, a lot of these customers found a lot of employees, and people that didn’t have jobs found enough of them to staff up our restaurants and hotels in Sarasota and Manatee county.”
That should help hotels and restaurants maintain better staffing levels at a time when more customers are ready to dine in. Gov. Ron DeSantis lifted all state restaurant restrictions in Florida in September and has since preempted any local restrictions.
A video on the job fair was produced and shared by the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association.