A Labor Shortage Ushers in a Restaurant Industry Reckoning

“There’s a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths who have been in this business,” explains Dean Kitagawa, owner of Wood Street Pizza in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The restaurant business has always been a place for transient employees. Pay comes in the tenuous form of tips, with a sub-minimum wage and no health benefits.

The hours can be brutal, and that’s before you even discuss how taxing customers can sometimes be. So it’s no surprise that so many have decided not to return to an industry that has never truly respected them, and with its roots in slavery, who could blame them?

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, “the leisure and hospitality and retail industries have had the highest quit rates since November 2020, consistently above 4.5 percent.” They also have some of the highest hiring rates.

Despite losing 1 million workers in November 2021, the hospitality industry managed to gain 1.2 million that same month.

High turnover could indicate a problem with the industry as a whole and not the laborers. In more stable, high-paying industries, the quit rate is much lower.

How are Business Owners Responding?

Business owners like Dean Kitagawa have to be creative when it comes to keeping employees. Kitagawa takes care of his back-of-house staff by reducing their hours to a traditional full-time schedule of 35-40 hours.

Typically, in the restaurant industry, a cook can be expected to work a minimum of 60 to 70 hours. He wants his employees to be able to pursue other opportunities.

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