Restaurants in the United States have started the year with a recurring problem: staff shortages.
Chipotle said Thursday it intends to hire 15,000 people in North America to ensure its stores are adequately staffed during the peak spring season. Other chains are following suit: Taco Bell has posted more than 25,000 jobs on its website and Starbucks has more than 10,000 for baristas.
According to the National Restaurant Association, food establishments in the country have created jobs for 24 consecutive months since the worst of the pandemic. However, employment in this sector is down 3.6% from pre-pandemic levels, amounting to 450,000 jobs.
In a November survey of its members, the association found that 62% of restaurant operators said they did not have enough staff to meet customer demand. Eighty-seven percent of operators said they would make more hiring next year if they could find qualified candidates, but 79% said they had vacancies that were difficult to fill.
Hudson Riehle, the association’s senior vice president of research, said a growing number of jobs outside the restaurant industry are competing for similar workers, such as delivery drivers. Restaurants are raising wages and benefits, but Riehl doesn’t see restaurant workers returning to their pre-pandemic levels this year.
Dean Nunez, director of operations at Floriana, an Italian restaurant in Wilmington, North Carolina, said cooks, dishwashers and other kitchen jobs are some of the hardest to hire right now. He said many people who used to do these jobs found work at grocery stores, pharmacies, banks and other places during the pandemic and never returned to the industry.
She said Floriana has cut its wages to at least $15 an hour to fill those positions. The place raised prices for diners to compensate. But attracting workers, especially young people, remains difficult. Most of the people who work in Floriana’s kitchen are in their fifties or sixties.
“It’s tough, it’s not for everyone,” Nuñez said. “The work is exhausting, repetitive and you have to beat the heat.”