A “Sign Of The Times” In The Restaurant Industry Goes Viral

A Fernandina Beach restaurant’s sign catches national media attention.

— Steve’s Marketplace —

Editor’s note: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insight on various topics in Marketplace.

A local restaurant known for its oysters luckily found a pearl of publicity this week. As expected, the pearl was unexpected. 

When owner George Stewart posted a colorful sign at Sliders Seaside Grill about staffing hardships, he never imagined it would go viral. Did it ever. And it caught the attention of the national media, as a sign of the times in the restaurant industry. 

Stewart was interviewed Monday on the popular morning show “Fox & Friends.” The interview was part of the “FED UP” segment of the show. The headline on the TV screen read: “Restaurant blames government handouts for staff shortages.” 

The Fox newscaster, Steve Doocy, spent five minutes asking about the sign, and especially the message on it. The strongly worded message read: “Sadly, due to government handouts no one wants to work anymore. Therefore, we are short staffed. Please be patient with the staff that did choose to come to work today and remember to tip your server. They chose to show up to serve you.” 

At the crux of the message – and the problem – are supplemental unemployment benefits being paid by the federal government. With these extra Covid-related payouts (of about $300 a week) combined with traditional unemployment benefits, many workers are making more money not working. 

This is what Stewart describes as the “handouts.” Workers are basically being paid to stay home. And with so many restaurants here, the labor pool is already stretched. 

However, in Florida and in Georgia, these federal supplements are ending. Gov. Ron DeSantis is discontinuing the supplemental payments to try to incentivize Florida residents to return to work. Some 23 other conservative governors are doing the same thing – turning away the federal money. 

“We absolutely can put more people to work,” DeSantis said during a press conference. “The demand is there. Businesses want to hire more people, and I think we can go in that direction.”  

In terms of jobs, the U.S. economy is still lagging where it was before the virus. However, there are a record number of job openings right now. So there just aren’t enough willing workers.  

Stewart says his sign “addresses the problem we’re having in the industry.” The demand is there. The crowds are there. “But we can’t take care of them,” he says. 

In response, local restaurants have shortened their hours, closed off tables, and stretched their staffs. It hasn’t been as they imagined this year, anticipating a rebound from the decimation of the virus. 

Stewart is having to offer a $1,000 signing bonus for new hires. But to offset higher labor as well as food costs, he may have to raise prices on the Sliders menu. It all impacts the bottom line of profits. 

“Restaurants are closing not because business is not good,” he says, “but because they’re short on staff.” 

In the interview, Doocy pointed out that White House economists do not believe the lavish unemployment benefits are deterring workers. “I believe they don’t have a clue,” Stewart said when asked about this. 

Stewart has taken a stand before. He stopped televising NFL football games at his restaurant when the players began kneeling for the National Anthem. He felt that strongly about the unpatriotic stunts. 

National attention is not foreign to Amelia Island. We regularly receive accolades from travel magazines and websites, and recognition from many other avenues. The rich and famous come here. 

This type of publicity, bordering on controversy, is not normal for us. But it’s a harsh necessity to resolve a difficult situation. It is nonetheless meaningful, a pearl of wisdom. 

Steve Nicklas Financial Advisor
Steve Nicklas

_____ Steve Nicklas is a financial adviser with a regional brokerage firm who lives and works on Amelia Island. He is also an award-winning columnist. His columns also regularly appear in weekly newspapers in North Florida and in South Georgia, and on his website at SteveNicklasMarketplace.com. He has published a book, “All About Money,” of his favorite columns from the past 20 years. The book is available on Amazon. He can be reached at 904-753-0236 or at [email protected]