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Restaurants Are Short Staffed and It’s NOT Because People Are Too Lazy to Work

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As the weather warms up and more Covid vaccinations are getting into arms, plenty of people are feeling more comfortable venturing out into the world of restaurant dining. However, staffing those restaurants has become a huge challenge. The New York Times, CNN, and NBC’s Today Show have all written about it, but why is this restaurant worker shortage happening? Too many people assume it’s because waiters and waitresses are inherently lazy and they would rather cash stimulus checks and collect unemployment than work for a living.

While that may be the case for a handful of people, for the most part it’s simply not true. The maximum weekly benefit in Florida is $275 a week and there are surely plenty of servers who can make that much on a busy weekend of shifts in South Beach. Over in Massachusetts, the maximum rate goes up to $823 a week, but that’s only if previous employment paid close to that. If a server didn’t claim 100% of their tips, their weekly payment is probably substantially less than $823. The argument that restaurant workers are too lazy to go back to work is only part of the story. There are plenty of reasons that restaurants are facing staffing shortages that have nothing to do with a work ethic.

People have left the industry for good

Working in a restaurant during Covid isn’t anything like it was pre-Covid. Rules and regulations change on the daily and the sense of fun that used to be commonplace in a restaurant is no longer a thing. Melissa from Little Rock, AR says, “When we first reopened it was amazing. I was getting tipped like I was JLo in Hustlers. People were patient and kind and very, very generous. By Christmas they were cranky and done and I found myself dreading asking one more grown person to please put their mask on.” After being demoted from management to a bartender to a food runner, Melissa quit her restaurant job for something else. This is the case for a lot of people. They have realized that getting paid $2.13 an hour (in some states) and depending on customers to make up the difference in tips while they have no benefits, paid time off, or a work/life balance isn’t worth it. “Charlie,” a bartender at a Mississippi casino puts it this way: “We’re short-handed, and people keep sneering about how ‘lazy people would rather sit on unemployment than go to work,’ but the truth is, a lot of my former co-workers used the shutdown as an opportunity to find different employment.”

Lack of Affordable Childcare

Because of Covid, a lot of school is still happening virtually. Parents who used to go to work while their children were in a classroom no longer have that option. Jennifer, a former server in California, says “I have three kids in online school 6-8 hours a day. Therefore I cannot work full time. Child care is not an option. Who can afford child care on a server’s salary for three kids? In short, there is no choice but to collect unemployment.” Dawn, a cook and part-time manager echos Jennifer’s problems. “I have four kids, two in school and two toddlers. I would LOVE to be working again, but I cannot find any affordable reliable childcare.” With seven kids between the two of them, rest assured that neither Jennifer or Dawn are “lazy.”

Health issues

There are some people who just don’t feel safe being in such close proximity to so many people. “Mariah” was a server in Newport, RI when she learned she was pregnant at the beginning of the pandemic. When her restaurant opened up again in May, she reluctantly went back after her boss threatened that her unemployment claim would be denied. She took the job of hostess after being a server there for 14 years because she thought it would lessen her interaction with customers and eventually moved to the role of take-out. Her baby was born healthy, but now, even though she is vaccinated, she chooses to not go back to work because of the risk of carrying Covid to her unvaccinated child at home. A healthy baby is way more important than serving wings to unappreciative customers.

 

Restaurants are scrambling to solve the staffing shortage with some even providing signing bonuses to encourage more applicants. A Ft. Lauderdale restaurant will pay $400 to a new hire after being employed for 90 days while a restaurant in St. Louis will pay $500. One restaurant in Hollywood, FL went so far as to “hire” a robot that will run food and escort customers to their table. Eventually, the staffing shortage will sort itself out, but the next time anyone assumes the shortage is because people who work in restaurants are lazy, know that’s not necessarily the case.

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Bitchy Waiter

Bitchy Waiter

Darron Cardosa is a writer, actor, singer, and waiter. He lives and and works in New York City and enjoys "The Brady Bunch," "The Facts of Life" and cocktails almost as much as he hates your baby.

3 Comments

  1. Mark Campagnolo
    April 29, 2021 at 8:28 am — Reply

    I don’t know where this author is getting his information or impression. Here in upstate New York our servers may close to nine dollars an hour plus tips line cooks in the area of $24 an hour. While offering full-time hours and overtime and optional benefits. On a recent Saturday night there was not one server in our restaurant that made less than $500 working a six hour shift. There is a labor shortage across our entire country, our industry has certainly been hit the worst. And it’s not due to working conditions or pay.
    The stimulus money has devalued the working dollar. Certainly if an average employee can make over $1000 per week working or up to $800 a week doing nothing the answer to me is pretty obvious.

    • Kelly Marino
      April 29, 2021 at 11:33 am — Reply

      Did you even read the entire article? Perhaps in upstate NY where you work, there may exist a microcosm of server/cook prosperity, but I assure you that it is the exception. And it’s not only a lousy pay issue (for most of the country): the working environments for the most part are hostile toward workers who need to handle issues with children, sick family members, holidays, weekends, funerals they’ll regret having to miss, etc. not to mention the daily trials of being treated like crap by customers and bosses alike. This pandemic has shined a laser beam of reality on so many servers who thought they could/would never be able to transition into careers with steady pay options, regular schedules, benefits, earned time off, not being subjected to the Karens and Chads of the world, etc. There is no right or wrong for everyone, but let’s please get off of this holier than thou, “They’re lazy” bullshit!

  2. Jennyjinx
    April 29, 2021 at 11:08 am — Reply

    Hi, Mark,

    I’m a server in Ohio. Our tipped minimum wage is just over $4 an hour, but that’s because of Ohio’s minimum wage – not the federal which sit at 2.13 for tipped employees. Please do some research into each state’s minimum wage as they vary wildly from state to state.

    He’s getting his information from the thousands of servers across the country who interact on his Facebook page every day. This is why he uses names and locations in his post – because these are real people who have told him about the conditions they endure in their own localities. Not all state’s have the same labor and wage laws as in New York.

    In Ohio, people don’t like to tip much regularly and are downright nasty about it now. I work at a relatively high cost establishment and no one is making $1000 a week – though we should as busy as we are – and I’ve yet to work at a restaurant in this state that offers their serving staff ant benefits at all.

    Hope that helps.

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