- September 29, 2021
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Reports of labor shortages in the restaurant industry aren’t new. But hiring struggles have become especially pronounced since businesses started restaffing in earnest last spring.
Arizona’s leisure and hospitality sector employed nearly 43,000 fewer people in May 2021 than it did in February 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. and nationwide, the number of people employed in food services dropped by over 2 million between February 2020 and May 2021.
Amid widespread reports of worker shortages, restaurant owners are desperate to return to some semblance of pre-pandemic business operations. Many blame unemployment assistance for the worker shortage, but after being furloughed or laid off at the beginning of the pandemic, many bartenders, cooks and servers have simply moved on to other industries.
Former hospitality workers shared with The Arizona Republic the reasons why they’re not going back to work in restaurants or bars. Here are a few of the key reasons
With COVID-19 cases and outbreaks sweeping through restaurants in metro Phoenix since the beginning of the pandemic, some restaurants haven’t been able to retain bussers or stay on top of sanitizing. Some employees have even pointed to cases where they were force to work while waiting for results of their COVID-19 tests after being exposed. With few restaurants offering health care, the risks to personal and family health outweigh the rewards of continuing to work in the hospitality industry.
Restaurant workers say the stressors that came with working through a public health crisis — from hostile customers who politicized COVID-19 to employers’ disregard for their safety — have taken a toll on their mental health. Enforcing mask mandates led to disgruntled customers who tipped poorly, and some customers become physically combative with servers.
Read their stories:Former restaurant workers share why they left the industry for good
Individual restaurants were closed for weeks at a time, or indefinitely, because of COVID-19 cases, leaving many unemployed. Now, as companies begin to offer former employees their jobs back, some are offering part-time work at the same pay. The combination of instability, shortened hours and low pay are leading many to look for other opportunities.
Many restaurant jobs pay less than $15 an hour, which meant that many could make more on unemployment, save money on gas and not risk contracting COVID-19. Newly reduced hours make the pay even less attractive. Some back of house staff are trading restaurant jobs for work as warehouse stockers, which pays more and offers more consistency.
A breaking point:Restaurant workers strike at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport
Wages are only part of the problem. For some, a period of unemployed limbo was a chance to reprioritize their time and explore new careers. For others, it offered the distance to see bigger industry problems that existed before the pandemic, including abusive work environments, lack of support on and off the job, and nearly nonexistent work-life balance.