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Restaurant patrons are coming back, but what about employees?

As vaccines roll out, Iowans are heading to restaurants more and more. But restaurants owners are having are hard time finding employees to hire.

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — Nothing says business is getting closer to normal than needing to bring on more employees to meet customer demand, but now, restaurant owners are meeting a new challenge: getting their employees back.

"Business picked up a little bit, which is a good thing," said Cesar Miranda, owner of the West Des Moines restaurant Mi Patria.

That means he needs to hire people for both front and back of house positions.

"It's hard to bring people into work. I've been looking for a server for the past couple of months. And I've been looking for a cook, and there's nobody," he said.

According to the Iowa Restaurant Association, the pandemic cost the restaurant industry in Iowa some 25,000 jobs. Many of those employees have moved on to other industries.

"They're highly qualified. They work hard; they are a desirable workforce, and other industries snap them up. And now we find ourselves on the cusp of a comeback, ready to open our patios, in need of getting our own employees back, many of them who are no longer available. And we're desperate for workforce," said Jessica Dunker, president and CEO of the Iowa Restaurant Association.

Miranda has repeatedly posted on his restaurant's Facebook page that he's hiring. 

Other restaurants, meanwhile, are taking stronger measures, like offering signing bonuses to attract new employees.

"People ask me, 'Well, what restaurants are you talking about?' All restaurants. You have a favorite restaurant? Go apply at it. What types of jobs? All jobs. Do you want to be a server, you want to be a bartender, you want to be a cook, you want to wash dishes, you know, hours, whatever hours you want to work," said Dunker.

Miranda said he believes there's another factor at play: unemployment benefits.  He said he sees people come in to "apply" for a job only to never return for an interview.

"There are people that can make more money being on unemployment than just working," he said.

Watch the previous story on Mi Patria on Local 5's YouTube channel

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