After going through closures, the restaurant industry is now facing a new problem: hiring shortages. Even as dining restrictions are beginning to lift across the country and more people receive vaccinations, restaurants still have to contend with the booming demand. Not enough people want to work for restaurants right now.
Pandemic Closed Restaurants Last Year
When the government ordered restaurants to close last year, many establishments had to let workers go. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, restaurants and bars lost around 5.5 million jobs between March and April last year. As a result, millions of Americans suddenly found themselves out of work.
Now, these jobs are coming back in droves. Restaurants and bars added about 176,000 new jobs in March. However, this number is still 1.8 million jobs below the pre-pandemic employment level. According to the National Restaurant Association, that’s 15% below February levels last year.
From Fast-food to High End, Restaurants Face Hiring Shortages
The hiring shortage affects all restaurant types across the spectrum. Darden Restaurants, owner of Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen, and other chains, said hiring was their foremost priority.
“Our greatest challenge right now is staffing,” said CEO Eugene Lee last month. Before the pandemic, Darden had about 165,000 active hourly employees. In contrast, that number shrunk to about 115,000.
Fast-food chain Taco Bell hopes to hire at least 5,000 people during a nationwide hiring event this week. Rival McDonald's wants even more. They plan to hire 25,000 employees in Texas alone.
The fast-food giant started a three-day hiring event last week. Meanwhile, IHOP started targeting 10,000 new workers. The company plans to launch a national recruiting day on May 19.
Where are the Restaurant Workers?
Glassdoor CEO Andrew Chamberlain thinks one of the reasons is increased demand this year. Many restaurants “are getting ready to open up and hire at the same time.
It's leading to a massive boost in demand for these workers,” he said. Chamberlain also added that fewer people might be looking for restaurant jobs compared to before.
Many think that a sizable number of workers left the industry altogether. The pandemic disrupted what was once a lucrative career option for many workers. Instead, their workplace shut down and left them without any alternatives.
Given the fragility of the industry, and with the pandemic still raging, it’s no wonder why some workers hesitate to rejoin their old jobs. In fact, Glassdoor reported that job searches under “restaurant server” changed for other search keywords.
These included “data entry,” which jumped 400%, “remote position” which rose 300%, and Amazon opening, which increased 600%.
In addition, some workers may have gone back to school. School enrollment tends to surge during recessions, Chamberlain explained. For some, returning to a labor-intensive job might be difficult because of child-rearing responsibilities. “All of these factors combined are creating a perfect storm hitting restaurants,” Chamberlain observed.
John Horne, owner of Anna Maria Oyster Bar in the Bradenton area in Florida, thinks that unemployment benefits are too attractive right now. Home thinks that for low-earning restaurant workers, unemployment benefits amount to about the same as a check from a restaurant.
However, collecting unemployment without the risk of exposure to Covid-19. In addition, Home also voiced concerns about raising the minimum wage. This is a position he shares with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, where he is restaurant director.
Watch the PBS NewsHour video reporting that despite rising salaries, the skilled-labor shortage is getting worse:
Why do you think there are hiring shortages in the restaurant industry? Do you think the situation will resolve itself soon?
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