The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Sunday March 26th

Editorial: The restaurant industry is feeling the effects of labor shortages

DTH Photo Illustration. COVID-19 has caused employee shortages in all service work in Chapel Hill.
Buy Photos DTH Photo Illustration. COVID-19 has caused employee shortages in all service work in Chapel Hill.

“Now hiring,” “Help wanted,” followed by some text highlighting how much the job will pay an hour (and a signing bonus!). We have all seen these signs in restaurants in the past few months — from fast food places to family-owned favorites. 

The staff shortages many restaurants are experiencing are negatively affecting the services they provide — whether that be limited operating hours, a slower rate of service or a hike in their menu prices.

Therefore, we shouldn’t be too surprised that we aren’t getting the service that we usually expect.

This has been the case for some restaurants located close to UNC. For example, Omar Castro, the co-owner of Breadman’s, couldn’t provide a comment to the Carolina Alumni Review during a busy brunch shift, as the restaurant was so short-staffed he had to personally wait tables.

Another example is Dame’s Chicken and Waffles, located on Franklin Street. Even with COVID-19 restrictions being lifted earlier this year, the restaurant struggled with operating hours and was short-staffed. Dame’s was open for lunch on weekdays and only expanded its hours after hiring new staff.

These examples show that even though things may seem to be gradually returning to normal, there are certain aspects that might be affected for a long time even after the worst of the pandemic has passed.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor reported that employment at eating and drinking establishments in May was still 1.5 million jobs below pre-pandemic levels, down by about 12 percent.

There isn’t one definitive cause of the labor shortage, and it has become a point of political contention. Republicans argue the unemployment benefits the government provided during the pandemic are taking away the incentive for people to return to work. Meanwhile, Democrats argue the often low minimum wage of working at restaurants discourages potential workers from returning.

However, another explanation is that the issue lies with the industry itself, and the effects of the pandemic simply made the problems more apparent. 

Many restaurant jobs are high-stress and often have long and inflexible hours for low wages and few benefits. These individuals also deal with rude customers who’ll take out their frustrations on the employees without a second thought. Additionally, many individuals might not be comfortable working indoors and interacting with a significant amount of people while the pandemic still exists.

According to a poll conducted by Joblist, half of former hospitality workers said they wouldn’t return to their previous job, and a third of respondents said they wouldn’t return to the industry altogether, citing reasons like wanting higher pay, better benefits and a new work environment.

As customers, we shouldn’t so easily take out our frustrations on restaurant staff, as they might be having to do the work of multiple people while enduring the burden of rude customers and lengthy shifts to compensate for fewer employees.

The obvious solution to the restaurant labor shortage is to increase wages and benefits, as many restaurants have already done. However, this might also mean a hike in prices that customers have to pay — something Chipotle made headlines for when it announced it was increasing prices by around four percent to counteract an increased average hourly wage of $15.

Even if many of us will lament having to pay slightly more for food from the places we like, it might be the only way for restaurants to be able to attract more workers again. It might be the new normal. 


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