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Restaurant industry struggles to get workers to come back

restaurant worker shortage
Posted at 2:33 PM, Apr 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-08 16:24:51-04

The unemployment rate is still almost double what it was pre-pandemic, and at least 9 million Americans are unemployed. So, why are restaurants around the country struggling to find workers?

The restaurant industry has never been an easy business.

“I’ve been in the restaurant business since high school,” said Fred Morgan.

Morgan has spent most of his life managing restaurant chains around the country, but eight years ago, he decided to start a small pizza chain of his own.

“We opened our first three locations in the first four months and haven’t really looked back,” said Morgan.

His business, Fired Pie, has grown to 21 locations in Arizona in the first seven years. At the beginning of last year, Morgan was about to expand to other states.

“Then, of course, the pandemic hit, and thank goodness for the first PPP loan, it really saved us,” he said.

When vaccines started to roll out and states like Arizona allowed indoor dining—first at 50 percent and now 100 percent--Morgan was excited to ramp back up and hire more staff again.

“All of a sudden, we weren't getting any applicants,” he exclaimed.

He has 60 positions open. All of the jobs are paying above minimum wage, and some are well-paying salaried and management positions. Yet, he cannot get enough people applying for the roles to fill them.

“It is really shocking,” he said. “It is across our industry right now”

Despite high levels of unemployment nationwide, reportedly at least 9 million Americans are unemployed. Restaurant associations are reporting this trend across the country.

The top three reasons why former employees and potential new ones are not applying include:

  • The ability to collect enhanced unemployment benefits has reduced the pressure to rush back to work
  • Some workers may still have to take care of children or other loved ones still forced to stay at home
  • Workers are making a career switch.

“Some people were very concerned, you know, they lost their job, got let go, and had no means,” said Morgan. "And they are afraid to come back to this industry.”

The volatility of the restaurant industry may have scared many people away from continuing a career in it. Some have decided to transition to fields that have thrived during the pandemic.

However, Morgan and other restaurant owners are hoping to lure some back. Morgan has offered to give bonuses, pay for the commute to work and pay higher wages. He’s drawn in a few new members, but it’s not enough.

Now, Morgan is hoping for state and local leaders to organize return-to-work incentives. Without that, he may have to close some locations and closures are the opposite of what the restaurant industry needs.