Tennessee restaurants looking to hire say people apply, but no one shows up


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – As Tennessee reopens, restaurants say their industry may have changed forever. From owners to chefs– they’re having trouble filling jobs. In fact, it’s gotten so bad, candidates aren’t showing up for interviews.

“Over the last decade or so, when people applied for a job, they were looking for a job. They showed up for the interview, they called you back, and generally speaking, they would harass you about the job,” said Josh Tyree who worked in restaurants mostly around Middle Tennessee for 23 years, more than half in management.

However, since the COVID-19 pandemic, the restaurant industry has not only had to change the entire way they provide food, but now, they can’t get anyone to work.

“You went from having 80 to 90 percent return rate of people getting back with you, to having 30 or 40 now,” Tyree explained, “You might get eight to ten applications over ten to twenty days, and you might actually get three or four of those people on the phone, sometimes that’s by accident, they accidently answer the phone and you can tell immediately they’re almost disappointed to be speaking with them.”

“I think we went through six applicants, five of them never showed up. The sixth one showed up and she worked for two days and then stopped coming in,” said John Cafarelli, executive chef at the Westhaven Golf Club, who’s worked in the industry in several states for for 26 years.

The say even though their restaurants offer above market wages, and even benefits, people may just be applying to prove they tried for unemployment.

Starting Oct. 4, most unemployment claimants in Tennessee had to begin completing three work searches as part of their weekly certification for benefits.

“If a claimant fails to complete work searches or activities, the system will automatically deny their benefits for that week,” the state workforce website explains.

“Stimulus checks, no strings attached, may have something to do with people not re-entering the work force. I noticed a lot of people tend to have gig economy jobs… they’re learning to do more with less,” Cafarreli said.

Tyree added there’s still a real fear of working with people and food.

“I have a former coworker who in the last month, was exposed to and caught COVID-19 at her place of employment and she told me she feels like it was the managers, who would not enforce the customer to follow the protocol,” he said.

As Westhaven Golf Course expands food services to the pool and even a pizza bar, while trying to fill existing open positions, they hope to get applicants who really want to be part of the hospitality industry.

“We can train people who want to work, who are reliable,” Cafarreli said.

Overall, the industry may need to make big changes to keep restaurants staffed.

“There’s a lot of people who may not be coming back to this industry, who’ve been in this industry for a long time. I believe employers are going to have to step up to the table and treat the employees differently, they’re going to have to offer things that haven’t been offered in the past,” Tyree concluded.

Tennessee unemployment is up 7,000 claims this week from last. The state is sitting at 5.1 percent unemployment this month, and more than 220,000 open jobs are posted on jobs4tn.com.

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