Struggling Kansas City area restaurants hope to attract new hires with $500 signing bonuses

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Filling jobs at metro eateries is proving to be a tall order.

One local restaurant group is taking a new approach to recruiting new hires — signing bonuses of $500 — an aggressive move meant to attract qualified applicants.

“We want talented, experienced team members,” Amber Craig, operations manager with Summit Restaurant Group, said. “ I’ve been in restaurants for a long time. I’ve never seen the demand this extreme.”

Craig, who has two decades of experience working in restaurants, manages Summit Grill in Waldo, among others. She, like many other managers in the Kansas City area, has too many job postings and not enough applicants. That’s when she and her team came up with the idea for the bonuses, which will be awarded to new applicants who become full-time employees.

She explained the first $200 will pay out after 60 days of employment, and the remaining $300 after 120 days. Craig said she typically oversees around 500 people, but she’s trying to fill 50 job openings — 10% of her employee headcount.

“We know there are a lot of talented people out there. We know talented people who are looking. We just hope to get some additional exposure with the sign-on bonus, and maybe people who haven’t considered us before would actually take a look at what we do,” Craig said.

Craig said the money is also an incentive to actually come in for the job interview. She and other metro restaurant operators complaint to FOX4 in many cases, applicants seem interested in the gig on the telephone, but then, they don’t show up.

Bill Teel, the executive director of the Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association, said he applauds this creative strategy, but he worries that this system of bonuses won’t be sustainable.

“At some point, economics take over. You have to pay more. Prices have to go up for customers. You can’t continue to operate without enough employees. You have to do something,” Teel said.

Unemployment benefits have been extended through September for many restaurant workers, many of whom lost their jobs during the pandemic. Local business leaders complain about job applicants being content with those benefits instead of shopping for a paycheck.

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