Chef Matt Bolus
Source: Kelli LaMatia
Like many restaurant owners, Matt Bolus, chef at The 404 Kitchen in Nashville, had to be creative when the city was shut down due to the Covid-19 mandates last spring.
He employed some of his core staff busy cooking for the local food bank, private dinners, and other billing options.
“You just really grabbed every straw because you didn̵
When the city opened and the mandates disappeared, Bolus saw an influx of guests returning to the restaurant. But now he faces a huge challenge: staff in the kitchen to meet growing demand.
“The labor fund is still, unfortunately, more of a puddle of labor,” he said.
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The pandemic destroyed the hospitality industry, which lost 2.5 million jobs in 2020, the National Restaurant Association said.
Although restaurants have added jobs in 2021, the unemployment rate for restaurateurs is still above the national average. But despite the unemployment rate in hospitality, many restaurants are still stretched to find workers.
Almost half of the establishments work with 20% less staff than usual, the National Association of Restaurants found.
In addition, the number of accommodation and food service establishments rose to nearly 1 million in March, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Although there is debate about the continuing shortage of restaurant workers, some point to increased unemployment benefits.
“If you talk to restaurateurs, they’ll tell you that a lot of their workforce makes more money by encouraging them to stay home,” said Jean Chick, a leader at American restaurant and restaurant business at Deloitte in Chicago.
But others blame systemic problems that have plagued the restaurant business for years.
“Places that want to continue the old model of no benefits, low wages and poor working conditions have the most problems with hiring,” said Teofilo Reyes, chief program officer at Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a non-profit organization. advocating for restaurant workers.
Leaving the industry
While the pandemic exacerbated staffing problems, shortages of restaurant workers were a problem before Covid, Bolus said.
In Nashville, restaurateurs faced stiff competition for talent as the city welcomed the influx of new establishments. In 2019, there are 112 new restaurants, bars or cafes, the third consecutive year with more than 100 openings, according to the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp.
“In the 26 years I’ve been doing this, it may have been the roughest two-year patch I’ve ever seen for a job,” Bolus said.
Nashville is not the only city to cope with the growing pandemic in the hospitality labor market.
“We’ve been in what the press has been calling a ‘staff hospitality crisis’ for more than a decade,” said Ben Ellsworth, founder and CEO of GigPro, an on-demand rental application based in Charleston, South Carolina.
After battling labor shortages for years, restaurants in Charleston resigned last March, cutting 65 percent of the city’s 28,000 restaurateurs by mid-April 2020, according to estimates from Charleston College.
While workers were about to pay their bills, many were looking for work elsewhere. Some employees have found better-paying jobs in landscaping or construction companies, Ellsworth said.
Pre-pandemic, experienced chefs in Charleston earned $ 15 or $ 16 an hour. With one-bedroom apartments renting more than $ 1,000 a month in the area, it’s easy to see why some workers have left the industry, he said.
Health risks have also affected the shortage, as many workers do not feel safe to return to work, said William Dissen, executive chef and owner of Haymaker in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Restaurant workers, especially those working in small kitchens, were vulnerable during the pandemic. Line chefs may be among the highest for worker mortality from March to October 2020, according to a study from the University of California, San Francisco.
Following mass layoffs across the country, burned-out restaurateurs may have taken the opportunity to look for other career opportunities, Ellsworth said.
More than a quarter of kitchen workers have permanently left the industry, according to a survey of 2,000 chefs from the US company Mis en Place. Some workers cite relatively low pay and long hours as reasons for leaving.
However, a third of respondents say they plan to return, but are not yet for a variety of reasons, including seeking the right opportunity (20%), Covid’s concerns (7%) and unemployment benefits or incentive checks ( 6%).
On-demand rental applications
Although North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper recently lifted the restrictions, many operators have failed to hire staff at full-capacity restaurants, said Dissen, who also owns The Market Place in Asheville, North Carolina, and Billy D’s Fried Chicken in Asheboro. , North Carolina.
Restaurateurs often turn to Craigslist to find workers, but there hasn’t been enough response lately to meet growing demand, he said.
“Since we reopened 75% and 100%, we’ve really had difficulties,” Dissen said. “I put ads almost every day.”
As the industry continues to struggle with increasing labor shortages, Dissen has turned to GigPro, an on-demand hiring app, to meet temporary needs such as cooks or dishwashers.
“It was really amazing for our business [in Charlotte] so we can fill in the gaps when we need it, “he said.
Managers can offer higher pay for workers at the last minute. For example, if the typical hourly rate for a dishwasher is in the range of $ 15 per hour, they may offer to pay $ 20 per hour at GigPro, Dissen said.
“I literally filled concerts at our restaurant within 5 minutes of publishing,” he said.
The app also allows managers and workers to try shifts together before getting to work, said Bolus, who has hired a handful of staff from the app.
“They have a chance to shine or they have a chance to leave,” he said.
Disadvantages of on-demand rental applications
Workers’ advocates say there may be some drawbacks to hiring applications on demand.
“The biggest drawback is that you will be treated as an independent artist,” Reyes said. “This means that you are not subject to the little labor protection we have under the Fair Labor Standards Act.”
Another potential drawback could be the increased risk of racial or gender discrimination based on the employee’s profile photos in the app, he said.
“I think it’s definitely something to watch,” Reyes said.
“Calculation” in the restaurant business
However, some restaurateurs say changes in the hiring and recruitment process can be a good thing.
“I think these types of applications are just starting out and I think they will eventually revolutionize the way we all work,” Bolus said.
Another trend in the hiring process is offering money to candidates for interviews, Chick said.
“They say, ‘We’re actually going to give you $ 50 in cash to show up for the interview,’ and then it’s up to the restaurant owner to sell them, taking the position,” she said.
While hiring managers are testing new recruitment strategies, some are noticing a change in the dynamics between owners and workers.
“I think there was some calculation in the restaurant business,” Dissen said.
As restaurants explore operations, there may be some steps to try to “level the playing field” between owners and employees, he said.
But it will look different for each restaurant, depending on long-term debt, products sold and how much employees pay, he admits.
“I think it’s very deep questions and maybe sleepless nights to try to figure out what the answer is,” Dissen said. “But I think that way you stay viable for the future.”