Trying to write about the current state of the hospitality industry - restaurants specifically - is a daunting task. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, restaurants have been hit with setback after setback.
First we were shut down, then reopened with restrictions, shut down again, more restrictions...you all know the story. Restaurant workers collected unemployment, and many took the opportunity to leave the industry for good.
Now, at the tail end of a global pandemic when other industries are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, restaurants are still drowning and wondering if they will ever recover.
If you are struggling in the industry, either as an owner trying to keep your doors open, or as a worker who isn’t making the money that you were used to, just know you are not alone.
Everyone has absolutely lost their mind.
And understandably, right? I was recently at an event hosted by award-winning chef Tim Hollingsworth, who made some really great points about where we’re at as an industry, and why.
This isn’t a direct quote, but when asked why he thinks restaurants are having a hard time finding reliable workers, he made a great point about how the COVID-19 pandemic made people really nervous about job stability in an industry that used to be pretty solid.
Knowing that one day restaurants can be completely shut down without any real warning took a toll on the workforce.
A newly-coined term, The Great Resignation refers to the millions of people who have quit their jobs over the course of the pandemic. The result is an acute labor shortage nationwide.
Hotels and restaurants are the hardest hit by the labor shortage, mostly because of the low-wages, long hours, and poor working conditions. Many saw an opportunity to get out, and they got out for good.
Now, restaurant owners are rushing to fill positions just so they can have the staff to keep their doors open for service.
I spend most of my time talking to restaurant owners and their staff. Everyone is burnt out, stressed, and I would even say hopeless. Understandable, right?
The truth is though, we’re not in a hopeless situation. The restaurant industry is staging a comeback, and it’s only a matter of time before we are back to where we were pre-pandemic.
People love going out to eat, and they love being waited on. No matter how many scary articles about AI you read, humans will want to hold on to the full-service restaurant experience for the foreseeable future. That means plenty of jobs for servers, bartenders, hosts, and managers.
The biggest challenge that restaurants face now is rebuilding in a way that adapts to the current workforce attitude. Treating employees better, paying livable wages or making sure servers and bartenders are making appropriate tips (check out The Pros and Cons of Tip Pools) and providing benefits are a good place to start.
Patience is a virtue, blah blah blah...no one wants to hear it, I know.
The truth is though, patience is our only way out of this. The restaurant industry will recover. It just isn’t going to happen overnight!
Our culture is shifting, along with our customer base and overall the way we run our businesses. This is human nature, it’s just been put under a magnifying glass because of the pandemic.
So take a deep breath, look around your restaurant, and buckle down however you can to push through this last hump. If you have team members that you love, make sure they know how much you appreciate them. If you’re hiring new employees, give them the resources they need to meet your expectations before writing them off as “not a fit.”
Patience isn’t easy for anyone, but we have to come together and choose patience as an industry. We will come out the other side stronger and better than before, we just have to have some hope, faith, and patience.