- The restaurant industry is facing a staffing crisis, with 75% of operators struggling to hire.
- The New York Times reports that restaurateurs are finding a solution by paying workers more.
- Chef Jason Hamill said adding a higher pay to his benefits package made it easier to find employees.
The past two decades have been busy for Chicago chef Jason Hamill, who opened Café Lola in 1999 with a four-burner stove and some thrift pots and pans, transforming the restaurant into an international favourite.
When the pandemic forced him to stop eating out, Hamill told the New York Times it was also a chance to step back and think about how he’s doing his job.
“The pandemic has given me an opportunity to start with a blank slate and say, ‘Let’s rebuild the model and the way we’ve always been doing things,'” he said.
Arguably the biggest change Hummel has made is to increase the base salary for all employees to between $18 and $24 an hour — on top of Lula’s existing benefits package that includes paid time off, plus health and retirement benefits.
At a time when the biggest problem 75% of operators faced was the struggle to hire and retain employees, according to the National Restaurant Association, Hamill said his approach made it easier for him to hire the 40 new employees he needed.
The 20% service fee on each check and the distribution of extra tips to the entire team helped make the math work.
Corina Stumm, owner of Robb’s West End in Maine, not only added a 20% service fee, but, she told The Times, bypassed expensive scheduling and reservation software and sent the savings back to her employees.
Ruby’s base wage is now $12.15, the full minimum wage for Maine, instead of the minimum wage for tipped workers allowed in 43 states in the US, according to worker advocacy group One Fair Wage.
A recent two-week study by One Fair Wage found that 1,621 restaurants in 41 states, such as Lulu Cafe and Ruby’s West End, offered full minimum wages or more to tipped workers, averaging $13.52 before tipping.
Higher wages may be the biggest area where restaurants need improvement to attract workers, but they are far from the only problem in the industry.
Richard Walquist, president of the American Employment Association, the nation’s largest recruitment group, told Bloomberg that his organization is still struggling to find 10 temporary workers for an upcoming conference, despite offering up to $25 an hour. I’ve found two.
Data from restaurant management software company Restaurant365 showed that applications for restaurant jobs have fallen about 3% each week over the past nine weeks. In addition, the decline continued even with the end of the boosted unemployment benefits.
Dozens of restaurant workers Insider shared the deep frustration of long hours, poor management, and mistreatment of customers, and said the change was long overdue. Matt Murphy, who has worked in restaurants for 25 years, told Insider he welcomes the disruption that these business difficulties are causing in the workplace.
“It’s causing some positive change in our industry,” he said. “Employers who used to treat people like disposable workers now treat them like real employees. It has definitely changed views on things.”
If you are a restaurant worker, manager or owner changing your salary or benefits, please contact Dominick Reuter via email. Responses to this story will be kept confidential.