frustrated man sitting in restaurant

Key Points

Learn why restaurant workers refuse to return to the industry

Restaurants are stretched thin as they deal with unprecedented staffing shortages. Across the country, full-service restaurants are operating with 6.2 fewer employees in the back of the house and 2.8 fewer workers in the front of the house, compared with pre-pandemic staffing levels, according to a report from Black Box Intelligence, a restaurant, and consumer data source.

But why are restaurant workers in short supply and what can the industry do about it?

Fed Up

Many restaurant workers were laid off during the pandemic and have failed to come back to the industry as food service began to open up again. Many of them sought work in other industries not knowing when they’d be able to return to work at restaurants. 

Black Box Intelligence recently surveyed former and current hourly employees and found it’s not the unemployment benefits that keep them from restaurant work. In fact, more than two-thirds of current and former restaurant workers said disrespect from customers is a major factor in the industry’s labor shortage. More disturbingly, almost half of those workers cited emotional abuse from their managers as a factor in the decision to leave the industry. Fifteen percent said they were sexually harassed by managers or co-workers, and another 15% said they were sexually harassed by customers.

With few benefits of working at a restaurant and little room to grow, compensation was also a key factor, and “right now employees have the upper hand,” said Victor Fernandez, Black Box’s vice president of insights and knowledge. 

Out of the thousands of workers surveyed, they also cited factors like scheduling, childcare, and overall concern about their mental and physical health as issues for not returning to the field.

Workplace culture was less a factor, Fernandez said, but that may change as the industry reaches a new equilibrium and wages stabilize. “We see now that states with the highest minimum wage have the lowest turnover rates,” he said.

Job Candidate’s Market

In the second quarter this year, limited-service hourly worker pay increased 10% year over year. That’s up significantly from the 4.1% increase in the first quarter.

Line cooks in full service saw a 6% increase in Q2, 3% higher than the increase seen in Q1 this year.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that job openings have increased to a series high of 10.1 million in July, with accommodations and food service accounting for a large portion of the increase.

That has resulted in a “job candidate’s market,” the report said.

The already high turnover rates within the industry have spiked even more and voluntary quits are at an all-time high. For limited-service restaurants, turnover rates increased to a whopping 144% in June 2021, compared with 135% in 2019. Similarly, full-service restaurant turnover was 106% in June this year, compared with 102% in 2019.

Still, 66% of respondents said they would return to the industry if the right conditions were met, the report found.

Labor Shortage

This shortage is definitely affecting how restaurants do business. Next month, we will discuss some things your restaurant may try to improve the situation.

By Leslie Radford

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