Restaurants Are Short Staffed and It’s NOT Because People Are Too Lazy to Work
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, AK 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.”
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.