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The Real Reasons Behind the Restaurant Worker Shortage

If you run a restaurant or work in one, you’ve likely experienced the effects of the current restaurant worker shortage firsthand. Restaurants are having a difficult time finding people to fill vacant job openings and stay in those roles. As a result, these businesses are understaffed, customers are being turned away, and service is suffering. 

So, what’s to blame for the restaurant worker shortage?

If you ask restaurant operators, they might point to a few popular misconceptions: that the shortage can be blamed on the fact that many workers are still afraid of contracting COVID-19 on the job and that there is an increasingly unmotivated workforce that would rather collect benefits than work. However, data from TouchBistro and 7shifts’ 2022 Labor Report: How to Survive the Restaurant Staffing Shortage reveals there’s a mismatch between what restaurant owners think and why employees actually don’t want to work. 

So, what’s the real cause behind the restaurant worker shortage, and just how bad is it? Keep reading to learn all that and more.

How bad is the restaurant worker shortage?

The labor shortage is more pervasive than you may think. In fact, 81% of restaurant operators say they are short at least one position. Servers and dishwashers are in the highest demand, and one-third of restaurants report that they are short on both positions.

Filling vacant roles is only half the battle. Retaining employees, which is already a struggle for the restaurant industry, has become even more challenging because of the pandemic. 

While the average restaurant turnover rate is currently 23%, according to TouchBistro’s 2022 State of Restaurants Report, family style restaurants experience turnover at rates of up to 32%. And, with new employee training costing $3,178 per person on average, turnover has a significant financial impact on restaurants.

How restaurants have responded to the labor shortage

Restaurant owners are frustrated by the labor shortage. Most think that employees won’t work because they’re worried about COVID-19. Many also claim that today’s workers are lazy and flaky.

So, what have operators been doing to cope with the restaurant worker shortage? 44% of restaurant owners say they’ve tried to increase productivity among existing staff, while 33% say they’ve reduced their hours of operation. While more restaurants are offering benefits now than ever before, fewer are offering higher compensation to attract new staff.

The real reasons behind the restaurant worker shortage

Unlike what operators suspect, fear of COVID-19, competition with unemployment benefits, and a general unwillingness to work are not the primary reasons for the restaurant worker shortage. Data from 7shifts shows that restaurant workers are leaving in droves because they want three things: higher wages, greater manager recognition, and more flexibility.

1. Low Wages

TouchBistro’s restaurant staffing shortage report found that only 54% of restaurants are offering higher wages to stay competitive, which is down from 61% in 2019. Because of COVID-19-related revenue losses, restaurants simply have less money to operate with and to offer employees.

However, it’s in a restaurateur’s best interests to pay employees more competitively. In a survey of hourly workers, CareerPlug found that 55% of employees are looking for an opportunity to increase their pay, and 7shifts found that higher wages are one of the top demands among restaurant workers and play the biggest role in long-term retention.

2. Lack of manager recognition

In their 2022 Toxic Work Environment Report, CareerPlug found that 52% of employees in the restaurant and food services industry do not feel like their manager genuinely cares about them/their performance at work. TouchBistro found that only 39% of restaurants are investing in professional development opportunities to stay competitive, compared to 43% in 2019. While many people think of roles in the service industry as temporary jobs, this simply isn’t true.

7shifts found that employees actually do want signs of long-term career prospects and manager recognition, such as promotions. Opportunities for professional development and career growth are critical to employee satisfaction and, subsequently, lower turnover rates. If you’re interested in learning more about how to create a development plan for your restaurant staff, you can download CareerPlug’s free Employee Growth Plan Template to get started.

3. Lack of work-life balance

Restaurant workers often have to deal with unpredictable and inflexible schedules, which makes it difficult for them to strike a true work-life balance. If you don’t know when you’ll be working, or don’t have the freedom to request shifts that fit into your life, how can you plan your time outside of work?

Only 29% of restaurants are using scheduling software to manage labor costs and shifts, according to TouchBistro. However, 7shifts found that ​​56% of employees say that flexible scheduling would greatly affect their happiness at work and their desire to stay in their role.

Wrapping up: The real reason behind the restaurant worker shortage

If restaurant owners don’t  listen and respond to what workers actually need, it will continue to be difficult for them to navigate the current labor shortage. By understanding the real reasons behind the worker shortage, restaurants can better adapt, reduce staff turnover,  and grow their business.


About the guest author

Ana is the CEO BLOOM Digital Marketing, which aims to help the hospitality and tourism industries fill the gap between their in-person experiences and their digital experiences. Her work includes writing for brands such as TouchBistro, 7shifts, and more.

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