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Jacksonville restaurant owners blame unemployment benefits for hiring woes

‘We’re not even getting anybody applying,’ one restaurant owner tells News4Jax

VIDEO: While Florida is open for business and restaurants are at full capacity, owners seem to have one common complaint: they can’t hire enough staff.
VIDEO: While Florida is open for business and restaurants are at full capacity, owners seem to have one common complaint: they can’t hire enough staff.

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – While Florida is open for business and restaurants are at full capacity, owners seem to have one common complaint: they can’t hire enough staff.

Several restaurant owners have told News4Jax they believe that state and federal unemployment payments are so good that hourly workers don’t want to take gigs in the service industry.

It’s causing some restaurants to limit their hours or close early. But that could change on Saturday when Florida once again requires unemployed people to prove they’re trying to find work.

The brisket, the sides, the atmosphere — all reasons customers say they love The Bearded Pig BBQ. And the locally owned restaurant recently opened its second location on 3rd Street South in Jacksonville Beach.

The second location is bigger than the original eatery in San Marco, with 7,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor dining.

Yet the owners say there simply aren’t enough hands to go around to adequately staff the joint.

“We’re not even getting anybody applying,” co-owner Chad Munsey said. “It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Munsey and co-owner Michael Schmidt have been trying without success to fill their staffs both at the beach and in San Marco. They credit unemployment benefits for the lack of interested applicants.

“From the state and federal, you can make $675 for staying at home,” Munsey said. “For a guy that makes 14 or $15 an hour and actually has to work for that per hour, why not just stay home and collect the same amount?”

Despite ads on social media and a $250 signing bonus, there aren’t enough hourly workers to fill the vacancies.

Critics have said the industry pays low wages, which is why employees don’t want to work. But Munsey and Schmidt say that’s not the case at their business or other local restaurants.

“I can tell you that my staff of the front of the house, a tipped employee, we pay $8 an hour,” Munsey said. “They’re only required by the state to make $5.65. And then with their tips they average $22 or $23 an hour. My average person in the back of the house makes $14 or $15 an hour. Minimum wage is $8.65?”

Schmidt said he understands some places have restrictions that don’t allow people to make their full potential earnings on the job, but he noted that Florida is open and restaurants here do not have the same restrictions as other states.

Up the road on Beach Boulevard, the famous Angie’s Sub shop has the same problem. Owner Ed Malin even adjusted the eatery’s billboard to say: “Stimulus checks distributed here bi weekly, apply inside.”

This could change as Florida’s waiver on the work search requirement runs out Saturday. In other words, unemployed people will now have to prove they’re actually applying for jobs and trying to get work to get benefits.

As of April 19, Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity has paid 2,346,043 claimants more than $26.3 billion. Gov. Ron DeSantis previously told DEO leadership to waive work search requirements until April 24.

“We will figure it out on our end,” Munsey said. “I just don’t want the guests to continue to be frustrated. Just bear with us, that’s all that we’re asking. That’s the big reason for getting the word out.”


About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.