The Current State of Restaurant Labor Challenges

Sep 14, 2021

The restaurant industry has faced many challenges as a result of the COVID pandemic. Many restaurants were forced to close their doors or operate at a limited capacity due to restrictions. According to Time Magazine, “one in 10 permanently closed.” The result? Nearly six million employees in the food and drink industry left or lost their jobs by April 2020.


With the introduction of vaccines and increased demand for dining, restaurant owners are eager to open at full capacity. However, a new challenge has presented itself in recent months—an industry-wide labor shortage. The situation has incited a heated debate among restaurant owners, experts in the industry, and researchers over the cause of this shortage.


Some say people don’t want to work because they’d rather receive unemployment or have become accustomed to being off work. However, research has shown that many workers switched industries to support their families during the pandemic, citing concerns for safety and lack of decent wages that make the risk worth it.


hire sign
A hiring sign touts “flexible schedule, great benefits, free sourdough!”

While the debate is likely to continue as to the cause of the labor shortage, restaurants should consider ways to retain their current employees and attract potential hires. According to a recent report by BlackBox, the top four areas of concern for potential workers are as follows:


Wages– This is not a new issue in the workforce. For far too long, restaurant workers have received low wages, skirting just above or below the poverty line, and are highly dependent on tips. Recently, many owners have attracted new hires by increasing wages, and other restaurants should take notice. Due to inflation, the cost of living has increased. Workers are not asking for much. They want a wage that affords them the ability to live comfortably, given the risk they are taking.


Promotions– Owners should also consider promotions for reliable and hardworking employees. In any industry, no one wants to take a job without any prospects for the future. Promoting within the company also helps retain employees, and it allows workers to feel valued. This is a win-win situation for employees and owners, making it no longer necessary to look outside the pool of workers that already exists within the establishment.


Flexible schedules– Everyone wants a flexible schedule, and the restaurant industry bend to allow it. Owners can work with employees adjusting to fit different schedules, attracting more employees to fill the positions, especially potential hires with children. If there are only full-time positions available, it might be helpful to post several part-time positions as well. In the current market, flexibility wherever possible is key.

Workers want flexible schedules

Benefits– With many other industries offering benefits, restaurants need to follow suit. Healthcare is of utmost importance given the current state of the pandemic, and that alone may be enough to attract additional interest in the position. At the very least, paid time off should be offered. Owners should look at the return on investment. A couple of paid days off could fill a role, resulting in higher capacity and increased revenue.


Currently, it’s a job seeker’s market. Employers need to be open to current and potential hires’ concerns to fill the labor shortage. The good news is that 66% of workers say they would return given the right conditions. So what steps will you take to respond to this labor shortage?