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As Masks Come Off, Restaurant Industry Outlook Tempered by Labor Shortage

With masks coming off, restaurants are bracing for a surge in business, evidenced by increased job posting for servers, bartenders and a host of other rolls, reports PeopleReady, an on-demand labor company. Unfortunately, many of those who filled those jobs before the pandemic have moved on to other careers, seeking more stability, higher pay and regular shifts.

“With the rise of food delivery services and remote jobs, I think that all the people that were in the restaurant business just for the money, once presented the opportunity to change, decided to grab it immediately,” Michael Cook, a former chef who has moved on to blogging at MyConsciousEating.com, told The Food Institute. “Working in the food industry is very stressful, time consuming, and the pay, as I have seen personally, is not really that high, even in the best restaurants.”

Cook is not alone. PeopleReady said some restaurant job postings have seen the highest increases ever since mid-February:

  • Servers, up 31%
  • Bartenders, up 28%
  • Hosts and hostesses, up 23%
  • Cooks, up 29%
  • Fast-food workers, up 17%
  • Food-preparation workers up 15%

“As industries like the restaurant industry continue their recovery, the demand for workers to help will only increase,” said Taryn Owen, president and chief operating officer of PeopleReady and PeopleScout. “Rebounding amid the current staffing shortage is a significant barrier for many businesses, and staffing firms are proving a vital partner through this challenging time.”

Steele Smiley, founder of Crisp & Green, said calling the situation a “staffing shortage” is misleading.

“It’s a fictitious storyline for the McDonald’s of the world, for these tired, legacy brands that are trying to keep people working there when those brands, for decades, have failed to advance the working conditions to live up to today’s employees’ expectations,” Smiley said.

Surveys have indicated people are turning away from the restaurant business, not only because of low pay and unstable schedules, but due to an increase in rudeness from customers. Nearly a quarter of people who left their jobs last year worked in the hotel and restaurant industries.

Carla Diaz, co-founder of Broadband Search, said in an email people like the freedom they’ve gained from the gig worker economy.

“What the restaurant industry needs to do is to rework their policies so that they become more attractive to new workers or those returning,” Diaz said.

“Business owners must find a way to make their business less stressful for their workers while balancing a customer centric approach as well. While customers are important to any operation, if you have no workers to help you run it, you have no business either way.”

Another piece of the puzzle, said Sean Behr, CEO of the technology company Fountain, which provides fast-hire solutions, said the hiring process itself may be to blame.

“You need to reduce your time-to-hire from weeks to days — even to hours,” Behr said. “If you take too long, there’s a good chance your job candidate will go elsewhere.”