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Triad job opportunities: Restaurants, businesses still looking for workers as restrictions ease

Some restaurant owners said they're still short-staffed and may be unable to handle more guests until open positions are filled.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — The easing of COVID-19 restrictions in North Carolina is some much-welcomed news for many businesses in the Triad. But some business owners have said they may be unable to take advantage of the expanded capacity limit right away. 

Some restaurant owners said they're still short-staffed and can't handle more guests than they currently have. They also said despite advertising those openings, the job applications aren't rolling in.

"Everybody I know that's been in this business a while, we've had to use every trick in the book that we know to try to keep open," said Fagg Nowlan, CEO of J&S Cafeterias.

The Triad-based J&S Cafeterias laid off up to 100 workers and scaled back operations because of the pandemic. But as restrictions have now eased, more guests are expected to return to restaurant dining.

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"I am ecstatic that they're coming back. Our biggest problem now, though, is gearing back up," Nowlan said.

Another problem business owners like Nowlan are facing is getting some of those laid-off workers back or finding new ones coming into the industry to seek open positions.

"We have a lot of in-between ages who are still afraid of the virus and don't really want to come back and get into or mingle with the public until they've had the vaccinations," Nowlan said.

"This is a volatile industry and it can be a little bit grueling. You are not making a ton of money and you have seen some people just permanently exit the industry," Algenon Cash of Winston-Salem said. 

Cash who is an industry advocate with the Triad Food and Beverage Coalition said there's not enough incentive to convince some workers to take risks yet. 

"Restaurant owners are having to compete with the federal government with this extension of the jobless benefits through September to somewhere around $300 a week that doesn't create a lot of incentive for employees to go back to work," Cash said. 

"There is a balancing act of being too generous where people don't want to return to work and I don't think we have found that yet," he said.

"Think of this as another grand opening, even though you've opened 10-15 years ago," said Haider Naeem, a Digital Media Strategist based in Greensboro.

Naeem works with small businesses like restaurants and lounges to market themselves better and leverage social media to draw in clients.

He said business owners must think beyond money when it comes to post-pandemic incentives.

"Incentives don't necessarily have to be monetary, they can be personal growth a professional growth," Naeem said.

"Why would someone work for you instead of sitting at home, what kind of benefits besides monetary benefits do they get from working with you," he said.

Naeem said the tragedies of the pandemic, from the loss of a loved one and high death toll to job and income loss, have shifted many people's priorities and their minimum requirements have become non-negotiable. He said business owners would have more leverage when it comes to talent retention if they tap into those needs.

"Help them with college, help them with applications if they're in college, help them for the day career and what they should do to take the next steps," Naeem said.

For Nowlan, he acknowledges there would be many changes in management and operations and some of that could also be reflected on menus.

"We do know that we're going to have to increase pay and hopefully hold a line in our prices. We don't want to be inflationary as I don't like passing cost down to the customer." Nowlan said. 

From the movies to restaurants, business owners have told WFMY News 2 that there are jobs available. They said if people wait till government benefits run out, there would be a mad dash and they might miss out on great employment opportunities.