“Come and get it” was at one time a call from restaurant owners to would-be clientele to come in and try their delicious preparations. Those days have passed. Today, the same cry is being aimed at potential workers but it refers to jobs. “Please come and get it.” But their cries of desperation are falling on deaf ears and many eateries are being forced to shut down, and they’re helpless to prevent it.
The former plate-slinging servers, cooks, cleanup crews, bartenders, dish scrapers, front desk greeters, and even assistant managers in some cases, have no reason to slave and toil for a cut and pay. They’re making more, or at least a comparable amount, by staying home and watching “I Love Lucy” re-runs. Where’s the incentive?
A typically crowded Chiplote restaurant in a Huntington, WV mall had to lock their doors. They had plenty of food on hand, just no one who was willing to prepare it or serve it. As long as the feds keep kicking in extra unemployment dollars they have no idea when they’ll be able to re-open. Meanwhile, the local manager is hunting for new career opportunities.
Since the country went into lockdown mode over a year ago, an astounding 110,000 restaurants nationwide have barred the windows. Some may survive in the long run, but the majority will never be able to remove them.
With pandemic restrictions easing up a bit, those restaurants coming out of hiding aren’t having an easy go of things. They need to recapture lost revenue to keep the bill collectors at bay, while at the same time paying their current suppliers to maintain an inventory. It’ll be a long time before any of them once again realize a profit, and this is only if they can hold on that long.
The problem is not consolidated in any one particular area of the country. Nationwide, owners say their financial woes are a two-fold issue. Even being allowed to re-open they are still plagued by limited seating guidelines, which at the end of the day also means fewer tips for their servers. This, in conjunction with the extra federal unemployment money being handed out like candy, is driving in the final stake.
Taco Bell reported being 5,000 employees short. Some of their franchises have taken to their parking lots with streamers and balloon-filled hiring events. One McDonalds’ offered $50 to anyone who would fill out an application and sit for an interview. It backfired and they lost a good deal of money.
The food industry has always been known for having a high turnover of employees so constantly being on the lookout for new ones is nothing new. And though it presents somewhat of a training hassle, it wasn’t that difficult to fill empty positions. Until now.
The senior vice president in charge of research for the National Restaurant Association, Hudson Riehle, said he’s never seen anything like this. “When it comes to recruiting workforce, in January, 7 percent of restaurant operators rated recruitment and retention of their workforce as their top challenge; by April that number had risen to 57 percent,” he said.
“With fewer people in the workforce, the stimulus supports still in place, worker safety concerns, the need for caregivers to remain at home, and much greater competition with other industries for workers, operators are returning to pre-pandemic recruitment techniques for hiring,” he added.
Mark Fox who owns four restaurants in NYC said a lack of employees has slowed down any forward momentum he had been desperately hoping to make. Business is picking up and it could be great, but it isn’t, and it can’t get there.
“We have difficulty hiring hourly workers, bartenders, servers, bar-backs, busboys, runners, overnight cleaning staff,” he said. “We are probably 60 employees short. I have one restaurant in Greenwich Village that I haven’t reopened yet because they don’t have the manpower.”
Hopefully, your favorite restaurant will come out of all of this unscathed, but it isn’t looking too good for hundreds of thousands more of them that are certain to be waving the white flag soon unless Biden and the boys make people go back to work by cutting off their freebies.
Here’s what you can do in the meanwhile. Support your favorite restaurant. Even better if it’s locally owned. If you have to wait a while for your food, so what? At least now you know why. If they serve good grub and you want to keep enjoying it, help them stay in business.