Employees laid off or furloughed during the pandemic aren't sure they'll come back.

Restaurants, bars, and other businesses in the hospitality industry continue to face COVID-19-related issues as the country begins to further roll back restrictions introduced during the pandemic. Although many states have started to allow restaurants and bars to return to pre-pandemic capacity, many of these businesses are facing staffing shortages, according to a Q2 2021 U.S. Jobs Market Report released Friday by job search platform Joblist.

In the report, 38 percent of former hospitality workers said they had no interest in returning to work at a bar or restaurant. The lack of interested candidates has led to several issues for restaurants, such as long wait times, unhappy customers, and dining rooms that have not been able to reopen even though state legislators have given them the green light.

With half the eligible population fully vaccinated, and 63 percent of eligible individuals with at least one vaccine dose, the U.S. has seen hiring rates increase significantly of late. The economy is beginning to operate closer to pre-pandemic levels, and according to the Jobs Market Report, more than half of job-seekers are comfortable returning to in-person work. So, what’s causing the hiccup in the hospitality sector? 

One of the issues identified by the report is a lack of workplace benefits. Healthcare, sick and parental leave, and a flexible schedule were all benefits survey respondents cited as “very important” when asked what workplace benefits were most valued. Although some restaurants do offer workplace benefits such as healthcare, many do not. According to indeed.com, the average wage for restaurant staff is just over $11 per hour. The relatively low pay plus the lack of benefits has kept many from returning to positions they held pre-pandemic. The Joblist report states 74 percent of job seekers believe employers need to re-evaluate the benefits they do offer, with as many as 55 percent of job seekers saying they would take a lower-paying job if it meant they would receive better benefits.

Another problem employers are facing, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is the enhanced unemployment benefit out of work Americans are receiving. After several disappointing job reports released by the Labor Department where the U.S. failed to meet predictions related to job growth, The Chamber of Commerce said the added $300-per-week was enticing potential workers to stay home, keeping the unemployment numbers higher than expected. With the extra $300-per-week, many former restaurant workers are making more than they did when they were employed. This has led to debates about what is a fair wage for restaurant staff, particularly waiters who rely on tips for the majority of their income.

Money, however, isn’t the only determining factor in the shortage of hospitality workers. While some respondents stated higher pay (39 percent) or a bonus (20 percent) could possibly change their minds about returning to work in a restaurant or bar, over 50 percent of former hospitality workers who have moved on to looking for employment in other industries said that no pay increase or incentives of any type would convince them to return. This statistic seems to contradict the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s statement that additional unemployment benefits is the main factor keeping people from coming back. Even with the potential of making more money, many workers are still not interested in returning to their previous positions at restaurants and bars.

What can employers do to make themselves more attractive to potential employees? To start, the report suggests they should consider the types of benefits they offer. With 74 percent of respondents telling Joblist that employers need to re-evaluate the workplace benefits they tout, it is clear that benefits are a top priority. According to the Jobs Report, 43 percent of job-seekers stated that benefits are more important than financial compensation. However, not all benefits are viewed as equally important. Survey respondents (88 percent) said that healthcare is one of the most important benefits––unsurprising considering the global health crisis faced in the last 18 months.

Compared to free food and gyms, which only 10 percent of job-seekers noted as being important, health benefits are clearly a lead priority of potential employees.

Feature, Labor & Employees