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How one Covington restaurant is avoiding the nationwide staffing shortage

Agave and Rye restaurant in Covington
Posted at 5:50 PM, Nov 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-21 21:38:32-05

COVINGTON, Ky. — Worker shortages that worsened during the pandemic are impacting every corner of Greater Cincinnati. It hit the restaurant industry particularly hard as shutdowns lifted and more customers began coming in to eat.

According to the National Restaurant Association’s mid-year update, three in four operators say recruitment and retention is their toughest challenge despite employment gains.

This is a trend that continues even after federal pandemic unemployment benefits have ended for those workers, a move aimed at getting more people back to work.

However, there is one location that has avoided the staffing shortages all together: Agave and Rye in Covington.

“It's all about the people, the brand and the culture, right? People want to enjoy where they work,” said Chris Britt.

Britt is the Director of Operations there.

Just across the river, Marketing Director at Earth & Ocean Restaurant Group Tony Castelli gave us a glimpse at the labor struggle before customers arrived.

“We have just barely enough staff to get by,” said Castelli. “Our team works hard every day. I mean, they've been here since 9 a.m. just loading, unloading boxes, not necessarily part of their job description.”

He says companies actually have to hold back on making money if there aren’t enough people to serve.

“If 1,000 people come in this building tonight, and we only have two servers and one bartender, then the likelihood of those 1,000 people coming back is pretty close to zero,” said Castelli.

RELATED | Labor Day marks end of federal pandemic unemployment benefits

So how has Agave and Rye avoided this trend?

“We offer great benefits currently,” said Britt.

In an industry where many get paid minimum wage and have to bank on tips, Agave and Rye is offering health insurance, paid time off, retirement plans, gym memberships and employee assistance programs that include childcare and aging parent care.

“They need to know they're secure, that their family is secure, that they have a future” said Britt.

That is setting the standard around the city.

E+O plans to adjust benefit structures as well and plans to offer bonuses.

“The industry is changing, and I think it's for the better,” said Castelli.

WCPO 9News asked Agave and Rye if it has affected profits long term.

“It has not,” said Britt. “Because we don’t have as much turnover, right? Losing employees or team members costs a lot of money bringing in new ones and training.”