A funny thing happened as the nation emerged from the coronavirus pandemic over the past few months. The public returned to restaurants, but restaurant workers did not. And people are starting to notice. A new survey finds 43% of restaurant-goers are now frustrated with lack of staff...up from 21% a few months ago.
The growing frustration among customers comes as the National Restaurant Association estimates restaurants are still 1.5 million jobs below pre-pandemic levels. "This is probably one of the biggest crises to hit the restaurant industry in decades," says Jonathan Horowitz, CEO of Convive Hospitality and former president of the Greater Houston Restaurant Association. "We are just not seeing hospitality workers return like we had hoped."
"It's becoming increasingly difficult for restaurants to find any labor, much less qualified labor," he continues. "As a result, customers are seeing diminished levels of service."
One of the biggest culprits in the staffing shortage has been extra unemployment benefits added during the pandemic, which were recently ended in Texas and several other states. Horowitz tells KTRH the added unemployment was just one factor in the shortage. "A lot of industry workers found out last year that they could take their skills and go into other industries, and so they're not coming back into hospitality," he says.
The shortage isn't for lack of trying on the part of restaurant owners, who like other industries are offering more and more benefits to entice workers. "We've seen everything from signing bonuses, to additional benefits, to increased wages...we've seen wages go up dramatically in the last six months," says Horowitz. "Anything and everything that can be done."
For now, restaurant customers are going to have to stay patient, since Horowitz doesn't predict any quick solution to the staffing shortage. "I can tell you there's nobody more frustrated with this situation than the actual restaurant owners and operators, even more so than the customers," he says.