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4 Labor Myths That Are Holding Back Your Restaurant Business

Want to avoid the workforce turnover affecting the rest of the restaurant industry? Let's debunk these restaurant workforce myths together.

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If you’re operating a restaurant post-pandemic, you’re no doubt aware of the labor shortages plaguing the industry.

Restaurants saw the most impact from the pandemic, with tens of thousands of establishments shutting down entirely, and even more crippled due to the lack of in-person dining.

Those factors, along with rising complaints about wages, increased risk of getting sick while working, and inflation, have made for a turbulent time for the restaurant workforce.

It’s a bad situation all around. But it’s not hopeless.

We have some insights to help with your staffing issues, but first, we need to do a little mythbusting. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, so we’ll take a deep dive into the biggest points of misinformation about staffing restaurants post-pandemic.

The Top 4 Workforce Myths Holding Back the Restaurant Industry

Because the restaurant industry is such a close-knit community, information spreads fast. That’s usually a good thing, but not when it comes to misinformation. 

Let’s take a close look at the biggest myths about restaurant workers today that are making it more difficult for you to hire the right talent. 

Myth: No one wants to work.

You’ve seen the social posts. You know the ones–the notes posted in fast food restaurant windows that say something like, “We’re closed because our staff don’t want to come to work.”

Image credit: Know Your Meme

It’s become a common rallying cry for unhappy employers facing the workforce crisis. But, like a lot of popular slogans, it’s oversimplified. Let’s look a little closer. 

Fact: People aren’t quitting due to a lack of motivation–it’s a lack of fair work conditions.

Did you know that news publications have been reporting the very same claims of “no one wants to work” for over a hundred years

If that were true, the restaurant industry would have collapsed a long time ago. 

The truth is a little more complicated. Restaurant workers are quitting en masse for several reasons. 

  1. The close nature of restaurant work means staff are at high risk of getting sick.
  2. Cost of living is rising everywhere, and restaurants continue to pay workers minimum wage (or in some cases less), relying on tips to make up the difference.
  3. Leadership in many restaurants haven’t adjusted their policies to adapt to a post-COVID world.

The common thread in accounts given by current or former restaurant staff is that they’d love to be working, but the health, safety, and financial risks inherent in their jobs means they feel they have to choose between working and staying safe and healthy. 

Facing that decision, many are choosing not to work, or to work elsewhere. 

Myth: Tips more than make up for minimum wage.

Those in food service jobs have long been paid at minimum wage or slightly below, with the understanding that tips will (or at least should) bump up their hourly pay. 

Since that’s been the standard in the industry for so long, some restaurant owners haven’t updated wages to reflect today’s cost of living.

Fact: Tips are too variable to compensate for low pay rates.

There’s one big problem with the idea that tips should make up a solid living wage:

Fewer and fewer people are dining out in person since the start of the pandemic.

Even before the pandemic, relying on tips, which vary from person to person and can’t be accurately predicted, was a risky bet. Since then, though, 87% of workers report that their tips are down since 2020, and 76% of workers report this as the reason they’re leaving their jobs.

It’s also important to look at this issue from the wider perspective of the economy. If workers rely on tips, and tips have decreased significantly, and living costs continue to rise in spite of the change, how are restaurant workers meant to support themselves?

The other major factor here is that restaurant employees who have given their opinion on wage issues aren’t asking for much more than minimum wage plus tips. 

Myth: Your employees just want more money.

Looking at the requirements employees have for coming back to work, it’s easy to gloss over some of the more complex issues and assume that it all boils down to pay.

Even if it was a matter of simply paying workers more, you have a business to run, and profit margins are already low. Luckily, there’s more to keeping your employees than that. 

Fact: Employees will take standard pay if the workplace is stable and safe.

When looking over restaurant employee requests, the common theme is that restaurants need better incentives and policies along with standard wages. 

That means:

  • Better benefits – Offer affordable insurance, enough vacation and sick days, and pay raises at specific benchmarks to improve their wellbeing and motivation.
  • A safe workplace – Safety in the workplace encompasses a lot of areas. In this day and age, workers want to know that you’re enforcing COVID-19 protections among your customers. 

    Sexual harassment is a big issue in restaurants, too, so be sure your staff knows how, when, and where to report problems, and let them know they’ll be listened to.
  • Opportunities for advancement – Your employees need to know that, if they meet expectations and contribute to the workplace, they’ll have the chance to move into a position with more responsibility and higher pay.

    Set clear benchmarks and expectations for promotions, and make sure your staff know they can come to you if they feel they’re ready to move up in the company. 
  • Being open to new policies – Above all, the thing that will drive current or potential employees away is a demonstrated unwillingness to change or consider changing. 

    If you get feedback that your people want more days off, longer maternity leave, or better HR, just let them know that you’ve heard them, and you’re doing the work to evaluate their suggestions and consider putting them into action.

Myth: The pandemic is to blame for all these issues.

We’ve touched on the big changes that the pandemic and its aftermath have brought about. Looking back, it’s easy to see why people might attribute new shifts in the way staff show up to work and how they set their standards. 

But in this case, we’re all suffering from a bit of the ol’ recency bias. 

Fact: Workforce shortages and pay disputes have been around a lot longer.

It’s not that the pandemic created a bunch of brand-new issues and discussions around workers’ rights. The truth is that the pandemic simply brought these discussions to the front of all our minds. 

From the Great Railroad Strike in 1886 to a strike by UPS workers in 1997 to Occupy Wall Street in 2011 (most of which centered around the very same set of demands and issues that workers are speaking out about today), Americans have been fighting for better wages and safer jobs for literal centuries.

Now, that doesn’t mean the pandemic hasn’t influenced the current employment issues you’re facing. It has. 

But it’s important to learn from history, and to look at any big dispute from a zoomed-out perspective. 

The Verdict (and How It Works to Your Advantage)

While a lot of the problems and solutions we’ve outlined today may seem kind of bleak to a restaurant owner facing massive job walkouts, take heart. There’s a silver lining. 

Think of it this way:

If, in fact, you were losing employees and failing to find new ones just because no one wants to work or they’re all asking for $100/hour, you’d never keep your restaurant fully staffed and operational.

But that’s just not the case, which means the solution to your staffing problems is well within your power to implement.

Review your personnel policies and employee benefits, talk to staff members and managers, conduct employee exit interviews when possible, and improve your processes one step at a time.

If you can make some meaningful progress toward all of those things, you’ll see the difference in the long term.

Lily Norton
Lily Norton

Lily is a content marketing specialist at SimpleTexting. She specializes in making helpful, entertaining video content and writing blogs that help businesses take advantage of all that texting has to offer. When she’s not writing or making TikToks, you can find Lily at roller derby practice or in a yoga studio in the Seattle area.

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