Want to avoid the workforce turnover affecting the rest of the restaurant industry? Let's debunk these restaurant workforce myths together.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When looking over restaurant employee requests, the common theme is that restaurants need better incentives and policies along with standard wages.
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.
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.
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 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.More Posts from Lily Norton
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