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The Real Reasons Restaurants Are Short Staffed

Updated: Jan 27, 2022 11:41
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Unless you’ve been living under a Covid-free rock for the last 18 months you’ve probably heard there’s a serious shortage of restaurant workers in this country. It seems that after years of customers telling waiters and waitress to go get “real jobs,” that’s exactly what they did. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 4.5 million people quit their jobs in November of last year. One million of those people were in the leisure and hospitality industry. So why are service industry workers dropping their jobs like plates of food that have been sitting under a heat lamp for three hours? The most obvious answer is because of Covid, but it’s more complicated than that.

While Covid was responsible for the shutting down of over 100,000 restaurants at the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of the people who worked in those restaurants chose to not come back. And many of them who did go back, eventually ended up leaving again.

Carol: “After 30+ years in the industry, my body is falling apart. Plus covid dropped the guest count, so I had to work twice as many hours for the same money.” It simply became too much work for some people. With the restrictions on seating capacity and the reduction of restaurant hours, servers were working twice as hard for half as much money.

Rebecca: I’m a single parent, so when the shut down happened and I lost my job, I had to find something that wouldn’t be in danger of going away so quickly again.” With Covid surges happening every few weeks and variants mutating faster than a speeding bullet, no one is certain what the future holds. Restaurants could be forced to close again at any time and plenty of restaurant workers needed something more stable to depend on.

Aaron: “After 15 years…Last day was November 5th 2021. I quit because (for me) it wasn’t worth it any more. I was making myself sick to my stomach every shift I had to work. The customers were just awful. The good ones just couldn’t make up for the bad.” The number of customers who are taking out their Covid frustrations on their servers is escalating with alarming severity. Just last week a Connecticut man was arrested for throwing tantrum over a smoothie. He also threw an actual smoothie at a worker. Consequently, he was fired from his job at Merrill Lynch.

Angel: “The stress was not worth it anymore. Waitresses only make $2.13 cents an hour plus tips in Indiana. I was also sick of paying hundreds in taxes every year.” After months and months of not working at all, many servers decided that making less than minimum wage was no longer okay with them. Many customers seem to be tipping less and if someone is making a few dollars an hour as a wage and not getting decent tips to make up the difference, what is the point?

Randie: “I left 5 months ago after 22 years, and it was the best decision I ever made. People were just getting too awful and more rude by the day. I just was done getting treated like shit.” Again, too many customers are misdirecting their anger at service workers. If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that life is too precious to be treated like crap. No one wants to go to work and have a customer tell them they want to “punch them in the fucking face.

So, why are restaurants so short-staffed these days? The short answer is: the pandemic. The longer and more truthful answer is that the pandemic opened the eyes of many service workers who realized they were not getting what they deserve from their jobs. They left the industry to find something else to do for a living that is more reliable, pays more money, and doesn’t whittle down their self-worth with each shift. There will always be a need for restaurant workers, but maybe eventually, customers will recognize how vital these workers are and finally begin to appreciate them. Until that happens, expect to keep seeing “Now Hiring” signs in every restaurant across the country.

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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.

11 Comments

  1. January 26, 2022 at 11:28 pm — Reply

    Is there some reason why restaurants don’t pay adequate wages to make tipping unnecessary?

    • Diana
      January 27, 2022 at 2:17 pm — Reply

      Well, servers make a server minimum wage of $2.13/hr which hasn’t been raised since 1997. Congress would have to pass a law to change that minimum wage. Restaurants run on slim margins, so food prices would have to go up by 20% or more to cover paying just federal minimum wage of $7.25/hr. Which means, most restaurants would either have to raise their prices by 25-40% or close down. Also, in my experience of 15 yrs, I think most servers would find other jobs if we were paid less than $20/hr (which is more like $14/hr after taxes) due to the fact that we will make the same amount of money no matter the effort, no nights/weekends /holidays off, especially because there is no way a restaurant would offer more than $12-$15 hr to any position other than a manager. So $12/hr ($8 after taxes) , waiting 2 weeks for a check, never having a night/weekend/holiday off, running your ass off(I do a minimum of 1 mile/hr per shift, usually 1.75/hr) and to top it off, on an almost daily basis having some rude ass customers who treat you like garbage no matter what you do… I just don’t see it working. It would take a lot of changes to even make that feasible. Tipped workers originate from the Reconstruction Era as a way to not pay freemen a full wage, or at least that is what the history books say. Whatever the reason, yes it sucks, but the alternative, at this time, is more than most restaurants would be able to bear or willing to try.

  2. curious40
    January 27, 2022 at 8:47 am — Reply

    Your article shows that people left the service industry, it doesn’t say anythig about them getting other jobs. Just that they quit. Are they working somewhere else or collecting unemployment/welfare?

    • Julie
      January 29, 2022 at 9:23 am — Reply

      When workers are treated and paid better this won’t be an issue. Owners from mom and pops to corporate need to stop trying to get rich off the backs of workers.

    • Adran
      February 6, 2022 at 12:26 am — Reply

      You can’t just quit your job and receive unemployment benefits, it doesn’t work that way. You have to be fired.

    • S. Used to serve
      March 3, 2022 at 1:30 pm — Reply

      You don’t get unemployment if you quit. Only terminated people get it.

  3. Diana
    January 27, 2022 at 2:04 pm — Reply

    I can’t tell you how many servers I know who were furloughed due to the original shut downs and had to do to go for minimum wage u til they found something else. It was so stressful going from making tips to waiting 2 weeks for a paycheck of $8/hr. So when things reopened and the customer count and tips were down, even a lot of those who stuck it out thru the to go only, they left. Now that working online and from home is so common, a lot of them got virtual assistant, data entry or customer support type jobs. I know a few who didn’t have the to go option and were furloughed, who then applied for unemployment, and no one got it in less than 2 months. So, they had another job by then and only received a small payout to cover those few weeks. A lot of these people had children,, who were now doing school online from home and day care centers were.closed or only open for HCW and 1st responders. Yes, everyone wants to say, “Go get a real job!” yet they want to go out to eat and expect fast and friendly service. WE MAKE $2.13/hr plus tips, but we are taxed at minimum wage(sometimes more), so at least $7.25. That means we have to make at least $5.12/hr in tips to cover the taxes and not be paying to work. So, if we make $20/hr in tips, well that is actually only $14.88/hr minus our nightly tip out for the bar/bus/host, which is at least 3% of our SALES, not our tips. Yes, we know this going in, and we dealt with it for a long time because the schedule was flexible, you made cash every night instead of a paycheck every 2 weeks and you made 2-3 times the minimum wage in tips per hour. Now, a lot of servers are being overworked due to the staffing shortage, it might not seem like it but 40+ hrs a week serving is a lot physically and emotionally. Most of our “paychecks” are VOID, in the negative, so we will end up owing taxes at the end of the year. That 2-3 times rhe minimum wage in tips per hour has become uncommon in most restaurants unless it is a more expensive place, but again, customer count is down, so it is moot. Daycare centers are still short staffed plus they need more space per child due to social distancing, so limited spots available, wait lists are 3+ months long. Most schools are in person, but everytime there is a surge, they go virtual for a few weeks, without more than a couple days notice. Gas and grocery prices have gone thru the roof, so it is costing more to live while making less. Most restaurants don’t offer Healthcare benefits and if they do, as a server without a check for it to come out of, you are forced to pay it out in a lump sum rather than small amounts weekly/bi weekly. No, serving is not meant to be a career, but sometimes it becomes one, because life happens. For me, it has been a plan B since 23 and I’m not 33. It’s been for extra money when I needed to save money, or flexibility while in school and now it is for flexibility to be a mostly stay at home mom with my toddler and extra money due to the monthly cost of living jumping 30-50% for 85% of our monthly bills. I worked in the trades before I had my daughter and plan to go back when she starts school. Until then, serving is the best option for my family. I love how people think that you can get unemployment indefinitely or that it pays anything after being a server (30% of your previous wages, so $35/wk in my case) and welfare to just sit at home (there is a work requirement for everything but health insurance for you is you have children and your children). Until you have had to get unemployment/welfare because everything shut down with barely any notice, burned thru your savings, worked thru the pandemic after the 2 week shut down at at least a 50% pay cut (you cannot get unemployment if you quit) and then came back to the restaurant with reduced hours and pay so you loose ay help you were able to get, if you had even received anything(took me 5 months to see a dime)…. you just don’t understand how badly this situation wrecked all us restaurant workers financially, emotionally, mentally and even physically. Maybe think twice next time you go out and don’t think you should have to tip, or even be a decent human being. Yes, money is still tight, maybe even getting tighter for a lot of people, but make sure you have enough to tip or order your food to go. We have lives, families, bills and taxes to pay too.

    • T.White
      January 28, 2022 at 3:03 am — Reply

      You pretty much said it all.
      Let’s not forget, servers are also having to host and take togo orders(no tip) and bag togo; along with taking care of their dine in guest. (which most guest are not understanding of the staff shortages).
      Host and togo specialist usually make 9.00 -10.00 an hour.

  4. Cadence
    January 28, 2022 at 1:33 pm — Reply

    Right on! Let the douchbags make their own food and figure their own stuff, if they can’t be gracious enough towards service industries.
    Also it’s high time that the minimum wage was raised to match the current living costs, especially the inflated cost of rent or housing market.

  5. Lauren
    February 1, 2022 at 7:04 am — Reply

    We should all make sure to tip ans treat people well. I was in the industry for years ans it was a harder job than my office job.

    As for the Connecticut man, the reports are underplaying that this poor man’s son almost died because the staff put peanuts in his severely allergic son’s smoothie. No, he shouldn’t have gone back. However, the staff still should be held responsible for almost killing a child.

  6. CKH
    May 20, 2022 at 7:19 pm — Reply

    I worked through the full pandemic. I was with the same restaurant for over 10 years, and played a vital role in their survival through it ( the owners went to their beach house while I stayed on-site, working every day). Afterwards, the owners wanted to go for a ‘younger’ vibe and treated me like garbage until I quit to work in another restaurant. When I began there, it was great. The owners then drastically cut servers shifts with no communication during the slower season. I took action and I did get a full-time ‘real job’, while developing my own online business. I went down to 2 shifts at the restaurant to accommodate the new job I got to survive the cut in pay. When it got busy again, the management team would not respect my new availability and continue to schedule me during times I have communicated that I am now unavailable.
    I’ve been in the business for over 25 years with roles in both serving and management.
    In my experience, bad management is a very large part of this issue. I have always been a good employee- on time, good attitude, customers and coworkers like me, I don’t cause drama. I have to point out the BS with disrespect, employees not having a voice, lack of communication, treating employees like they’re expendable, and sometimes abusive language from management cannot be overlooked. These things along with the other aforementioned issues are prevalent, long-standing issues throughout the industry.
    People left because they’re fed up and life is too short. Post-Covid is the day of reckoning for bad management & owners. **NOT ALL are bad. I’ve worked for and with some great management teams, but we cannot simply overlook this issue among the not great ones.

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