RESTAURANT LABOR STUDY FINDING: Higher pay is not a cure-all to attracting more talent and that staff is looking at culture and flexibility. A restaurant’s ability to adapt to this trend will make their operation more attractive to talent both experienced and new.

With a labor crisis clearly at hand, the team at Restauranttopia wanted to deep-dive into the reasons why.   No better way to find out than to simply ask those involved! In conjunction with our industry partners, Hillcrest Foodservice and Eat Local Ohio, we deployed and online survey to further understand what industry professionals consider to be the source(s) of the current labor shortage.    While we certainly have our own opinions, thoughts, and theories, we have exclusive access to 1000s of local independent restaurant operators and staff.  The participants of our study are the individuals who are experiencing the labor crisis first-hand, daily. We only collected data from prominent industry leaders, owners, and operators! 

The data is telling.  Inevitably, we will find out more in the coming weeks after the market adjusts itself due to legislative milestones, but it seems we may have more of a long-term issue on our hands than what we initially anticipated.

The following figures are from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

As the data shows, the number of fulfilled jobs is much higher than this time last year, but still very much lower than what it was pre-pandemic.  Even prior to COVID-19, the industry experienced a lull in successful recruiting and retention and is clear that the tumultuous year exacerbated this. 

The following data represents the responses from our survey participants. 

This question was developed to establish and categorize the vantage point of the participant, whether they were an owner/operator, employee/manager or a previously employed restaurant professional of any capacity. 

Question 2 was aimed at those survey participants who chose to depart the industry altogether and their corresponding reasons why. 

According to the National Restaurant Association, some eight million restaurant employees were out of work in April of 2020 due to layoffs, furloughs, and outright closures of operations.  The question looms, why? 

STUDY FINDING: The overwhelming majority of respondents in the “previously employed in the industry” sector decided that this industry-wide catastrophe was enough to nudge them in a different direction while chasing what they would consider their true passion or calling. 

It could be argued that this is the “heart and soul” of this particular study.  The data presented by governmental agencies leads us to indisputable conclusions on unemployment levels.  As mentioned, they are much lower in this segment than they were the year prior.   In researching this issue, the aim is to not only discern where employees have migrated to, but why they have done so, and what operators can do to entice them to resume their tenures in the bustling hospitality field. 

The current state of staffing according to owners, operators, and managers.  This poll confirms the hypothesis that many, if not most, restaurants are indeed suffering from a shortage of willing and able staff. 

While it is encouraging that 32% of operators claim their staffing issues are improving, the fact that 61% affirm that their situations are dyer and the outlook bleak. 

In conjunction with the second question, this installment was geared to gain the opposite perspective, why do the operators believe there is a deficiency in staffing.  Contrary to what was communicated by the industry expatriates, operators have other, more cynical assertions. 

However, they did agree, to the tune of 37%, that candidates are simply leaving the industry to pursue other ventures due to various reasons. 

STUDY FINDING: No matter the motivation, it is clear both sides agree that there are simply fewer people interested in working in the hospitality industry, particularly in restaurants. 

What is of significant interest is the notion that inflated unemployment benefits play a major role in the shortage.  A whopping 71% of participants claim that these benefits play a major role.  Unfortunately, the date for unemployment benefits expiring has come and gone, and it does not seem that the expected widespread relief has come to fruition. 

In relation to pandemic-related milestones, this set of responses offered a bit of insight into the beliefs the participants hold, and how that may relate to their strategy to attain talent.  In parallel with the previous data set, a majority of operators, 52%, clearly believe that the June 26th deadline that represents the suspension of padded unemployment benefits would be the most significant juncture in the crisis’ timeline. 

While it is still early, the returns thus far on industry reports do not favor this theory.   In the final query, we hoped to gain insight on how operators will respond to an ongoing labor shortage if it were to span beyond what many hoped would end, the discontinuation of added unemployment benefits.

The restaurant industry, according to some, has been in need of a renaissance due to claims of it being very demanding, high pressure, and overall, very taxing.   This graph illustrates what operators believe they need to do to render themselves a more viable and attractive employer. 

While limited in bandwidth, this research stems from a prestigious group of highly experienced and very successful restaurant professionals. 

It sets the stage for further research to hone in on the overarching themes illuminated by this question set. 

Again, it might be too early to determine that the popular and widely shared opinion of unemployment benefits being the main factor in keeping employees out of restaurants, but the early signs show that operators may be best suited preparing themselves for the long haul amidst this labor deficit rather than simply waiting to see what transpires in the coming weeks. 

STUDY FINDING: Higher pay is not a cure-all to attracting more talent and that staff is looking at culture and flexibility. The restaurant’s ability to adapt to this trend will make their operation more attractive to talent both experienced and new.


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We love locally owned independent restaurants. These businesses build strong communities by linking neighbors in a web of economic and social relationships. The more independent restaurants are thriving, the healthier the community will be! We want to help restaurant owners and operators hone their competitive edge through effective marketing and business practices.

Restauranttopia focuses on all things related to restaurant management and operations from hosts David Ross, Brian Seitz, and chef Anthony Hamilton. We feature interviews and restaurant success stories, along with insights on cost control, marketing, management, and personnel issues. Tune in for marketing ideas and tactics from restaurant business experts, gathered from lessons and data from restaurants around the US.

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