During a Wednesday town hall, John Lanni, the co-founder and owner of the Cincinnati-based restaurant group Thunderdome, asked the president, "How do you and the Biden administration plan to incentivize those that haven't returned to work yet?"
Biden, who was speaking in the auditorium of Mount Saint Joseph University, responded, "One, if you noticed, we kept you open. We spent billions of dollars to make sure restaurants can stay open, and a lot of people who now — who worked as waiters and waitresses decided that they don't want to do that anymore because there's other opportunities at higher wages, because there's a lot of openings now in jobs."
"God love you for doing what you do, but all kidding aside, I think it really is a matter of people deciding now that they have opportunities to do other things, and there's a shortage of employees," Biden continued. "There's a shortage of employees. People are looking to make more money and to bargain. And so, I think your business and the tourist business is really going to be in a bind for a little while."
When Don Lemon, the moderator of the town hall, asked the president if there is "anything you can do to help him out," Biden brought up the federal funding given to restaurants during the pandemic before he brought up wages.
"John, first of all, the thing we did to help John and the Johns out is provide billions of dollars to make sure they could stay open, No. 1," he said. "So, you all contributed to making sure John could stay in business. And we should. We should have done that, as we did for other industries. But secondly, John, my guess is that people being seven, $8 an hour plus tips, that's — I think, John, you're going to be finding 15 bucks an hour or more now. But you may pay that already."
Lanni was seemingly unimpressed with the president's answer and explained that 80% to 90% of his company's employers make more than the equivalent of $15 per hour.
"I feel like he didn't really answer the question," he told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "I was hoping he would recognize it is every industry's dilemma."
"We are in a labor crisis, and we need to find a way to incentivize people to get back to work. I just heard restaurants are going to have a hard road going forward and that we need to pay our workers more," Lanni added. "That's happening, and it's still not enough."
Another restaurateur in the audience, Taste of Belgium owner Jean-Francois Flechet, also expressed his disappointment at Biden's answer.
"I understand where the president was going. Everyone deserves a living wage," Flechet said. "But he was mixing answers. This wasn't about living wages. Anybody who works Thunderdome or Taste of Belgium make more than $15 an hour. I don't know that he fully understands the challenges we are facing."
Original Location: Biden tells restaurateur to pay workers more amid labor shortage