While restaurants and drinking places gained 1.3 million jobs in the first seven months of 2021, the industry still lacks 1 million jobs to reach its pre-pandemic level of 12. ,3 million, according to the National Association of Restaurateurs.
In August, however, the industry lost over 40,000 jobs for the first time this year due to an increase in coronavirus cases, keeping the labor shortage in mind. Without enough workers, many restaurants have reduced their hours of operation and are dependent on overworked staff facing higher food demand.
Many operators continue to attribute the labor crisis higher unemployment benefits offered during the pandemic, but a closer look at several labor reports released in recent weeks shows the situation to be much more complicated.
More than a quarter of restaurants do not find enough cooks
Twenty-six percent of restaurants say they’re looking for cooks and line cooks, while 17% need waiters and 7% are looking for bartenders, according to 7shifts data emailed to Restaurant Dive. Restaurant job data comes from over 2,400 job postings at over 1,800 restaurants across North America from June 1 to August 22, 2021, while 7shifts used internal data from over 18,000 restaurants and 500,000 employees, over 90% of whom come from North America.
The toughest positions to fill are for cooks and line cooks, managers and bartenders, the company said. Twenty-three percent of cook / line cook positions receive applications while 37% of executive positions receive applications, according to 7shifts. Fifty-six percent of bartending positions attract applicants.
Restaurants seated across the industry are already feeling the pinch of downsizing. Full service concepts work with 6.2 fewer employees at the back of the house and 2.8 fewer at the front of the house compared to 2019, according to a report by Black Box Intelligence and Snagajob. The report includes the results of the survey of more than 4,700 former, current and future hourly restaurant workers, as well as data from Black Box Workforce Intelligence.
Limited-service restaurants are also under labor pressure, and a handful of Chick-fil-A and Mcdonalds units had to close their dining rooms due to understaffing. Some of the Chick-fil-A restaurants have said they have turned off curbside orders to reduce pressure on their employees, according to CBS News.
Many restaurant workers just don’t come back
Many workers have left the restaurant industry to seek careers elsewhere, especially after many restaurants closed at the start of the pandemic. Fifteen percent of hourly workers surveyed by Black Box / Snagajob said they had changed industries in the past year, while 33% would like to do so.
30% of former restaurant workers found office jobs and 17% went to teaching or education, according to Technomic’s Crisis on the Front Lines study. Many have also turned to industries that are experiencing tremendous growth. Warehouse / logistics jobs, following a boom in online sales, are up 278% and work on demand, which can offer more flexibility to workers and employers, is up 183% from before the pandemic, according to data from Snagajob.
Most workers leave the restaurant industry for these three reasons: to receive a higher salary (28%); for access to a more consistent schedule / income (23%); and because they don’t have access to professional development and promotion opportunities (17%), according to Black Box / Snagajob.
Hourly wages are increasing
Many restaurants offer hiring incentives and hourly wages above minimum wage to attract fresh workers. According to data from Black Box Workforce Intelligence, hourly wages for limited services rose 10% year-over-year in the second quarter of 2021, marking the largest increase the industry has reported in several years. Full-service line cooks saw their wages increase by 6% during the period, up from 3% in the first quarter of 2021.
But better pay was not enough to keep employees working. The turnover rates for limited-service and full-service restaurants are higher than they were before the pandemic, reaching 144% and 106% respectively in June. In 2019, limited-service restaurants recorded revenue of 135% and full-service operators recorded revenue of 102%, according to the Black Box / Snagajob report.
Cases of abuse have increased
Although restaurant salaries are improving, abuse rates from customers and managers have increased during the pandemic. According to the Black Box / Snagajob report, 62% of workers experienced emotional abuse / disrespect from customers while 49% reported experiencing emotional abuse from managers. Fifteen percent of employees said they had experienced sexual harassment from customers or managers / colleagues.
A Fair Wage report December reiterates these findings, particularly with customers acting in response to the application of COVID-19 protocols. Some workers said customers threatened not to tip well unless the waiters take off their masks.
Such harassment could continue, especially with a majority (83%) of workers saying they plan to continue wearing a mask while working regardless of company or state requirements, according to Black Box. / Snagajob.
This dynamic is likely to become more complicated as states and municipalities increasingly require proof of vaccine for diners and employees to enter restaurants. A third of the guests have already said they would leave a restaurant if asked to provide proof of vaccination. And some employees are also pushing back those mandates. A New York City restaurant owner reported that 20% of his staff would rather quit than get the shot, according to Business Insider.
What restaurants can do
Hiring and retention are long-standing challenges in the restaurant industry, but the combination of growing demand for restaurants and a shrinking job market is pushing the stakes even higher. Yet there are strategies restaurants can adopt to attract and retain workers.
Use technology: Operators who used restaurant technology reduced staff turnover by 13%, saving more than $ 6,000 in costs to hire new staff for a 10-person team, according to 7shifts. Paid apps on demand have also been shown to improve retention rates, especially since they offer more flexibility on pay schedules compared to the typical bi-weekly pay date. Application-based applications that streamline the process and reduce the time to completion have also helped increase the number of applicants.
Ensure occupational health and safety: For operators who apply masks and vaccines, Black Box / Snagajob suggests operators provide support to workers and ensure staff are comfortable with applying these rules – adding that dialogue is essential between staff and managers to mitigate potential issues that could impact retention. Employee health check-up tools can also help ensure that staff stay coronavirus-free. These tools have helped prevent the spread of more than 500 cases and have been used 1.5 million times by employees during the pandemic, according to 7shifts.
Offer flexibility: More than a third of hourly workers and job seekers are parents, so operators should highlight any flexibility they can offer, suggests Black Box / Snagajob. Employers should talk to their staff to see what they need if they have childcare issues and offer to adjust hours, the companies said.
Make job postings clear: The top five things workers look for in a new job are a starting hourly wage, advancement opportunities, flexible hours, health benefits, paid time off and information about the company culture, according to Black Box. / Snagajob. These offers, as well as all hiring incentives, should be clear and apparent in job postings, the companies said. Make rates of pay transparency from the start has also helped boost job applications.
Attract young job seekers: According to Black Box / Snagajob, the majority of workers in limited and full-service restaurants are between 16 and 24 years old. Job descriptions and work environments should therefore be attractive to them, the companies said. Setting up an employee referral program can also increase application rates, as they have a hiring rate that is five times higher than other applicants, the companies said.