The restaurant was half-full with patrons at tables enjoying their meals and exchanging conversation when a sign was placed in the front window: Only Serving To Go Orders. The lack of available servers forced the restaurant’s manager to move to a faster and less friendly way to serve their customers.
Scenarios like what happened Saturday afternoon are taking place all around the country as a nationwide labor shortage continues to take place. In a July CFO survey by KPMG, which offered insight into how businesses are performing from an executive standpoint, 70% of the companies that participated in the survey said they were experiencing difficulty finding new employees.
Restaurants are even having trouble making rent, according to an Alignable.com September rent report. In September 35% of small businesses in the United States could make rent. The ongoing labor shortage was one of the reasons listed for this shortfall.
Veteran Atlanta restaurant worker Lena Perkins understands why companies are having such a hard time finding good people. According to her, it’s simple really. “Companies don’t always take care of its workers and now they need help and the reinforcements are slow to come to their rescue,” said Perkins, who has worked at a number of the city’s largest and busiest restaurants. “These were issues before the [COVID] pandemic. Some people have gotten used to unemployment. They don’t want to work as hard as they did before the pandemic.”
National Restaurant Association data provides further insight into this dilemma. Nine of 10 restaurants in Georgia have 50 or fewer employees and thus can rarely afford to lose employees due to rates of pay or for other reasons. More than 100,000 restaurants are temporarily or permanently closed around the country, according to restaurant.org. Georgia has seen a fair share of those closing.
What may be most concerning isn’t that the companies are having a hard time finding qualified applicants for human resources, law enforcement (the Atlanta Police Department is also experiencing an officer shortage at the moment, according to numerous reports), education and in the legal sector, for example. The concern is that positions at fast food and traditional dine-in restaurants are becoming difficult to fill. Those positions as waiters, bartender, and kitchen staff are usually some of the first jobs people take on while in school or transitioning in between careers.
According to Perkins that doesn’t mean people are looking to get those jobs in the same way they used to. “The old stuff that worked before isn’t going to work now,” she said. “Employers have to understand that.”
Even outdoor festivals are having a hard time filling staff requirements. The 26-year old Taste of Marietta Festival was cancelled earlier this month due to a labor shortage. A plan to reschedule it for next month has also been cancelled, with hopes of having it be back at full force in April 2022.
Restaurants are offering signing bonuses, with some, at a local TGI Friday’s in Jonesboro for example, as high as $1,000 for new hires. In Atlanta, one of the country’s largest food cities, the average salary for a restaurant ranks among the top 12 in the country, according to ziprecruiter.com. The site estimates the nationwide average restaurant worker salary at $21,470 or just over $10 per hour. With most restaurant applications not requiring college degrees or years of experience this could be many people’s way out of unemployment and a way to obtain health benefits and in some cases a 401K and retirement benefits.
For example, Chick-Fil-A, one of the state’s largest employers offers 100% employer-covered benefits -that includes medical, dental and vision- to employees whether full-time. While part-time employees have the option of joining the Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
At McDonald’s, which by most accounts is hiring for all positions most of the time, employees have the option of choosing from three Preferred Provider Organizations (PPO) for their medical benefits, that also include dental, and vision. Franchises -there are more than 40,000 locations within the United States and 365 in Georgia (29 locations within Atlanta city limits)- offer flexible schedules for those who have children, are attending school, or have other jobs.
The restaurant industry had 12.5 million employees at the end of 2020, according to data provided by the National Restaurant Association. There were 488,400 restaurant and food service jobs in Georgia in 2019, according to restaurant.org. The numbers for 2021 will be significantly different whether the industry sees potential employees take advantage of the hiring opportunities around the state.
“This is the best time to work in the restaurant industry,” said Perkins. Get the deal you want because right now employers need us,” said Perkins.