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Local bars and restaurants struggling to staff as Bridge Phase approaches

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(WEEK) --- Bars and restaurants in central Illinois are ramping up in preparation for the Bridge Phase on May 14, but a major staffing issue is putting some local eateries at risk.

"We always had five to 10 kids from Bradley who worked for us - it's a great part-time job. But that hasn't been the case recently and I don't know why," said Daniel Ralph, general manager of Jonah's Seafood House in East Peoria.

The local staple is known for its oyster bar, but they haven't been able to open it in months.

“We’re kind of in a cart-and-horse situation here," Ralph said. "(We) can’t do the oyster bar AND Jonah’s - so it was one or the other with the staffing levels we are at.”

It is a problem a lot of local eateries are dealing with.

Tommy Moraga owns Biscuits and Gravy in Metamora - and he's planning to open a second business with his wife and family.

But he says even some of the new hires are contributing to the crisis.

“Once we are able to confirm a hired candidate and they agree to work, then they don’t show up on their first day," Moraga said. "It makes it even more frustrating because we plan for a certain amount of people to be there working.”

On Friday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said one in four people on unemployment are making more than they did when they had a job.

And Ralph says he can't compete with that, let alone convince tipped employees it's worth the effort.

“Yes, they get paid hourly, but they work for tips. And if there’s not as much business - or they perceive there’s not as much business, they’re a little more hesitant to come back,” Ralph said.

With capacity limits set to go up next week, owners and managers say they are hard at work looking to fill both the front and back of the house.

Harry Croton

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