June 16 2018 – Robert Fiumara
The Restaurant Labor Shortage Continues In 2018
As anyone who works in a kitchen knows, there is no time to get bored. A server dropped the entree, the dishwasher is broken, or a group of 20 just came in for dinner 10 minutes before closing. Some people thrive on these types of challenges, but it does take the right personality. Perhaps for this reason, among others as you will read below, the restaurant industry is struggling with a labor shortage. Several things play into this problem and the industry as a whole is learning to adapt with it.
There are two primary causes of the labor shortage, and they are rather simple. The first one is the boom in restaurants across the United States within the past few years. Thousands of new restaurants are popping up across the nation each year, and yet Americans are eating out at the same rate. Restaurants are still a difficult industry to be successful in, but the social media buzz around new and unique little restaurants across the country is too much for some to resist. This boom is unlikely to be sustainable, and many of these businesses may struggle to survive long-term, but only time will tell.
The second major reason is the incredibly tight labor market. People oftentimes equate working in a restaurant with low wages. With the cost of living going up, people are willing to look elsewhere for work. Low wages coupled with a very low unemployment rate means that restaurants are not the first place on peoples’ minds when they look for work. There is also the issue of less undocumented workers. Undocumented workers covered many jobs in the kitchen and front of house, but with the government cracking down on this, many restaurants are half-empty. Some restaurant owners are calling for one-year work visas to help stop the shortage and get their workers back after deportation to their home countries.
There are even less teens working now than there were 20 years ago. Teens focus more now on figuring out how to work for themselves and get more scholarships to outweigh the inevitable student loans. Teens these days have access to the internet and are able to create opportunities for themselves, rather than work two days a week at a local restaurant in town.
Education is more important now than ever before and many parents are encouraging their children to focus on studies rather than get work experience while still in high school. In Colorado, restaurants are losing their workers to the weed industry, which pays low-level trimmers more than minimum wage. College students and the like are much more likely to trim weed than work in a restaurant, when offered similar rates of pay. There is a perfect storm of worker surplus, deficit of opportunities, and not enough reasons for people to work in the restaurant industry.
Restaurant workers are now trying a plethora of tactics to keep employees. Some offer to pay for culinary school in order to keep talented chefs. Some are pushing flexible schedules and the opportunity to rise up the ranks. Many offer paid training courses in things like wine pairing to encourage young people that there is a future in this line of work. The bottom line is that there are fewer employees available. Those who are willing to work for less money can sometimes be inexperienced. Restaurant owners are now rehiring people that left for another job previously or people that have never worked in the industry before. They end up spending time training a new employee only to have them leave as easily as they came, the restaurant ending up in the same place it began.
The positive effects of this are that people in society that the restaurant industry has previously overlooked over are now getting opportunities to have a job. The industry scouts people with disabilities from job fairs in an effort to become more open and accepting. The emphasis must now but put on making a restaurant a pleasant place to work. The #MeToo movement affects the restaurant industry now more than ever. Millennials are concerned with their quality of life and are not as willing as their parents were to work jobs that pay little or that they hate just because it pays the bills.
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