What is the future of the workforce that makes up the food industry?
No restaurant has gone unscathed by the havoc wreaked by COVID in the past year. Though some were able to convert to a delivery and pickup model, others had to limit occupancy, furlough staff, and decrease menu items. The worst cases lead to job losses or restaurants closing down altogether.
That said, 2021 and the new presidential administration are bringing hope in many forms. The Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) grants are on the way. Vaccinations are bringing confidence back to the customers who have been under quarantine. People are tired of eating (and making) home-cooked meals—all indicators of potential success for restaurants.
But what is the future of the workforce that makes up the food industry? What are the continued changes that must take place to provide safety for your staff and patrons? And how can you fill the positions you might have lost when fewer people are applying for the job? The answers have been (unsurprisingly) in front of us all along.
Immigration Puts Food on the Table
We cannot discuss the food industry without broaching the topic of immigration. Restaurants need food and employees to survive, and immigrants make up the vast majority of workers in agriculture and service industries. Specifically, some 75 percent of agriculture workers are born outside of the United States, and it’s they who grow crops, pick produce, and hold jobs at food processing plants and slaughterhouses.
However, about half of these foreign-born workers do not have U.S. citizenship and are at risk of deportation. Mass deportation from this workforce would affect American food production from processing, to shipping, all the way down to the grocery store. Home-cooked meals would be affected, not to mention restaurants. To mitigate such implications, President Biden signed the Citizenship Act to decrease the threat of deportation by giving 11 million a path toward citizenship. The bill also puts an emphasis on reuniting families, not separating them.
This means restaurant owners and operators can confidently hire hard-working immigrants without the threat of violating laws or attracting attention from ICE. The employment relationships would also mutually benefit the parties, as holding a job and paying taxes works in favor of obtaining citizenship for immigrants, and employers will be able to fill positions that are traditionally held by migrant workers. For the restaurant itself, building a strong community within can go a long way.
Diversity Can Save Your Restaurant
Underrepresented groups cannot shed their label because they are still passed up for jobs at a devastating rate. They can be qualified, ready to start immediately, and competing against no other applicants but still not hired. Moral standpoints aside, not filling a position only hurts your restaurant; while hiring a diverse staff has advantages in every category of business.
Cultural inclusivity impacts the bottom line; in general, companies with diverse management teams see a 19 percent increase in revenue when compared to non-diverse competitors. In direct proportion, businesses that do not diversify are losing out on money. Customers are becoming more aware of where they want to spend their money, and the presence or lack of inclusivity is a key indicator of a business’s brand. Hire underrepresented peoples and your clientele will notice, just as they’ll notice if you don’t.
If your restaurant employs a diverse staff, you give a message to the community that you support growth and prosperity for everyone. Even more, better company culture as a result of inclusion means less employee turnover. This means less stress on management, who must find time to hire and train replacements.
Restaurant Jobs in the Contactless Age
Of course, many of the restrictions restaurants implemented for COVID will remain for the foreseeable future, like increased sanitization, limited capacity, and an emphasis on off-premise dining. The dining population is used to this, so too should be your staff. Management must ensure that all staff, be it new hire or old, receive training on best practices for food and health safety.
Restaurant cleanliness should be treated as a top priority for management. This is for the safety of staff and patrons, as no one is “more entitled” to a sanitized environment. Hiring a custodial specialist would decrease the chances of sickness among your team, which means fewer sick days and increased productivity.
Technology might be a hassle to implement, but solutions like text-to-alert for those picking up online orders are a worthy investment as they make operations smoother and decrease physical presence in-store. For management, this might mean training the front-of-house staff on new platforms or hiring a position to manage these technologies.
The name of the game continues to be “make your customers feel safe.” For restaurant owners and operators, the best foot forward will be hiring inclusively, staying on top of safety guidelines, and taking time to hear your staff’s concerns. For staff, communicating to management about your concerns must happen in order to see change.
Jori Hamilton is an experienced writer from the Northwestern U.S. She covers a wide range of topics and, because she spent over six years in the restaurant business before writing full-time, takes a particular interest in covering topics related to the food and beverage industry. To learn more about Jori, you can follow her on Twitter.