- October 18, 2021
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In his 30 years in the restaurant industry, Tad Long had never seen a manager simply walk out in the middle of a shift — but that was before his “summer from hell.”
Long, who manages several Mod Pizza locations in the Midwest, told Insider he spent most of the summer working 90-hour weeks opening at one restaurant, closing at another, and personally filling in at every level because of the staffing challenges running rampant in the hospitality sector.
“The frontline service workers just really don’t get much love from customers, and everybody’s kind of stressed out,” Long said.
That stress is helping fuel a record level of quits in the hospitality industry, in which an unprecedented 892,000 workers walked away from their jobs in August, according to the latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The magnitude of that number is partly explained by the fact that accommodation and food services is a big sector that generally employs a lot of people — but the sector’s quit rate also led all others in the economy.
Workers in the hospitality sector quit their jobs in August at a rate of 6.8%, more than twice the national average rate of 2.9%, also a record.
Long said he had to be “all hands on deck at all times of day” in order to line up interviews with new applicants to replace workers who leave because they’re burned out, seeking better pay, dissatisfied with the job, or going back to school.
Another food-service manager, Christine Garrett, told Insider she had to hire 13 people this year to staff just one position at the cafe she runs at the Gettysburg Battlefield in Pennsylvania. Of those 13 hires, eight either quit without notice or never showed up in the first place, Garrett said.
Both Garrett and Long said that they’d raised wages and offered bonuses and incentives but that so far it hadn’t been enough to get staffing up to a fully functional level. And they are far from alone.
Three out of five fast-food restaurants and four out of five full-service restaurants said in a recent National Restaurant Association survey that they closed parts of their dining rooms in August because they didn’t have the workers to serve those areas.
Dozens of restaurant workers told Insider that while better pay was a necessary condition for them to remain in a job, other factors like getting proper training and avoiding workplace harassment mattered too.
In a recent survey, more than half of restaurant workers reported having been abused by customers or managers — and many said they were planning to flee the industry because of it. In another survey, 58% of restaurant and hotel employees said they planned to quit their jobs by the end of the year.
It’s not only managers and owners who feel the squeeze when employees abruptly leave their jobs — workers feel it too. Matt Murphy told Insider he’d seen this play out several times as he worked seasonal jobs at restaurants and hotels over the past year.
“That would in some cases cause a chain reaction where the people who were left were being overworked,” he said. Then “those people would quit because their coworkers weren’t there to help them and they felt like they weren’t getting enough support.”
With the latest government statistics, it appears that these labor challenges are unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.
If you are a hospitality-industry worker, manager, or owner who is dealing with the labor crisis, please get in touch with Dominick Reuter via email. Responses to this story will be kept confidential.