Philadelphia bars, restaurants offer huge incentives to lure workers back

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- As COVID-19 lockdowns come to an end, many businesses across the region are offering big incentives to help fill open jobs.

In Philadelphia's Fishtown section, Suraya, a restaurant specializing in Lebanese cuisine, is busy with orders.

Customers are ordering online and coming out to dine in person, but there's a problem: they can't find enough help.

"It's actually our number one need, we go to bed thinking about it, wake up thinking about it," said Al Lucas, one of five owners of Suraya.

They are certainly not alone. Driving up and down the streets of Philadelphia and the region, you see help wanted signs everywhere. But after being hired and laid off again over and over during the pandemic, workers are leery.

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For business owners, Governor Tom Wolf's announcement is cause to celebrate.

"They want to return to work but they want to make sure the job is right for them, so they're taking their time right now," said Ben Fileccia of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association.

So some business owners are raising the stakes.

"We're putting our money where our mouth is," said Lucas.

At Suraya they need a few more people to get them over so they're offering huge signing bonuses.

"We implemented a $2,000 signing bonus for all new people. Absolutely, it'll come in their first paycheck," said Lucas.

But there's more.

"They're also offering benefits that haven't historically been offered in this industry like health insurance and paid vacation," said Fileccia.

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With COVID-19 restrictions set to lift later this month in Pennsylvania, officials are emphasizing the importance of getting vaccinated.

"We took a good look at our health benefits package and we really wanted to come up with a program that made us feel more like a career, not just a job," said Lucas.

At La Calaca Feliz, a Mexican restaurant in the city's Fairmount section, they are offering a $1,000 signing bonus for servers and bartenders, and a $2,000 bonus for line cooks and dishwashers.

"So they get $500 each after they complete two weeks of training with us, and then another after 60 days, and then they get $1,000 at 90 days," said Kelly Fink of Casa Feliz.

The moves are indicative of how desperate businesses are to get workers but also hoping to keep them long-term.

"We want to show the workers out here how much we care and this is a fun environment," said Fink.

The Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association says with a lot of schools still virtual, it is tough for some workers to get and pay for child care right now. Businesses hope these incentives sweeten the pot to get them to come join the team.

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