Despite many businesses opening up after the COVID shutdown, restaurants are still struggling to fill the void of employees.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 1.3 million job openings in the accommodations and food industry, which makes up 11% of the total openings across all occupations nationwide.
The shortage has caused a strain on current restaurant workers, shortened business hours, and even led to the closing of many restaurants.
“We continue to put offers out there for more jobs, signing bonuses. The labor cost has increased up to 30%,” said Sam Sanchez, chairman of the Illinois Restaurant Association.
Blackbox Intelligence has cited that wages and benefits are a top priority for hourly workers. Many restaurants have taken that initiative to increase pay.
“The $15 minimum wage is something of the past, it doesn’t exist anymore. People are coming in at $18, $19, $20, $21 an hour, up to $25 an hour,” Sanchez added.
Yet, Sanchez also recognizes that it’s not just about the money for future employees.
“It’s about where you feel at home, where you feel comfortable,” he said.
Robert Gomez, owner of Subterranean and Beat Kitchen, has taken a proactive approach to gathering more staff members.
“You’re begging, borrowing and stealing,” Gomez explained.
“You go into another restaurant, you see who you hope is a good employee and ask them what they’re getting paid and [say] ‘I’ll give you two or three dollars more’,” he said.
But Gomez says there are bigger factors at play.
“This country’s economy has always been built on the influx of immigrants throughout its history … we shut that off,” he said. “It just took time for us to feel the pinch.”
Immigration restrictions tightened under the Trump administration and the COVID-19 pandemic, and Gomez believes we are now seeing the impact of strict immigration policies.
His suggestion is that policy-makers should come together and discuss how to legalize migrants, otherwise, the restaurant industry “will not bounce back”.