Area Restaurants Facing Severe Worker Shortage

A worker shortage has restaurants nationwide -- and in Houston -- struggling to stay staffed.

The National Restaurant Association says its members list “labor recruitment” as their top business challenge.

One reason: America eats out more. More than 15,000 new restaurants opened in just one quarter alone -- and they're all clamoring for workers.

New stats show the nation's restaurants are scrambling to fill job vacancies to meet customer demand.

It's a local problem, too.

Melissa Stewart is executive director of the Greater Houston Restaurant Association. She says the sign of the times is "Help Wanted."

She says top restaurants are working to keep their workers with flexible schedules and career advancement -- but also seeing top talent poached by competitors.

Stewart tells Newsradio 740 KTRH that her industry employs more than 300,000 people locally – and needs to fill lots of openings in short order.

The National Restaurant Association says 37 percent of its members claim that finding, hiring and keeping good workers as their top challenge.

That's up 15 percent in two years.

To attract and retain workers, restaurants are offering incentives -- like repaying culinary-school tuition for their chefs, hiring former prisoners as kitchen assistants, and snapping up employees whom competitors have fired, according to the New York Times.

Also, Taco Bell and McDonald’s have unwrapped plans for expand opportunities to aid workers with paying college tuition.

Restaurant industry experts also say the crackdown on undocumented workers has had a chilling effect, according to the Times report, because dishwashers and other low-wage restaurant workers are often in that category.

“Our industry is very much in need of a temporary visa program for the low-skilled, essential workers,” Shannon Meade, the National Restaurant Association’s director of labor and work force policy, told the newspaper.

Stewart agrees that “sensible immigration reform,” as she put it, would also help – particularly in addressing back-of-house hiring woes of Houston restaurants.

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