ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) - A recent job fair in the Central West End yielded just 15 candidates for more than a dozen businesses looking to hire employees.

Aaron Teitelbaum, owner of Kingside Diner, said applications are down 20 to 30 percent this year and he has a suspicion as to why.

"That's the question, is it enough to pay somebody equal or a little bit more than what they're making on the couch?" he said. "That's hard, that's a hard one to fight."

Teitelbaum is not alone. News 4 has heard from numerous business owners who said they've never experienced more challenges trying to hire new employees.

"Scheduling interviews has also proven difficult, because we'll schedule them and often times people just won't show up," said Myhi So, with So Hospitality Group.

The company operates several restaurants, including two Drunken Fish locations.

"There's definitely a demand there for people who want to dine out and experience their favorite foods and drinks, but obviously given the limitations, we're doing the best we can," So said.

She said current staffing levels allow the restaurants to meet customer demand, but not exceed it. A wait-time is almost a guarantee at Drunken Fish on any given night, she said.

"I hope customers understand the climate we're in when it comes to hiring," she said.

The Chase Park Plaza took part in Monday's job fair and is looking to hire a little bit of everything, according to Director of Marketing and Sales Frederik Houben.

"We'd love to open our restaurant seven days a week, but we don't have the staff," he said. "We need housekeepers, but housekeepers don't make $15 an hour like those sitting at home collecting unemployment."

On average, a person receiving unemployment from the federal government and state of Missouri is seeing $620 a week. That's more than $15 an hour. Most said when unemployment benefits run out, they anticipate a surge of people will return to the workforce. While it's currently difficult to hire, Teitelbaum said he won't offer sign-on bonuses like some owners have.

"I do believe it will open up as soon as unemployment wears out," he said.  "I'm against the idea of incentivizing people to come get a job. It's not fair to the people that are already working for us."

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