But, of course, it isn't so cut-and-dry as there being more people looking for work. One element of the “talent crisis” was restaurants paying more attention to staffing beyond just cutting checks. Offering work-life balance perks, college education, career advancement paths, community involvement and sustainability practices, and, naturally, higher wages.
In a COVID arena, this hasn’t gone away. In fact, it’s been compounded by the ability to earn $600 extra per week on unemployment—a dynamic that gave some minimum-wage workers 270 percent more, on average, than they made working at a restaurant. In NYC, the average restaurant employee salary was less than $28,320 in all boroughs except Manhattan.
While this $600 benefit expired in July, it could return in the next stimulus (if one is passed), as outlined by a recent Heroes Act proposal.
Yet even if it didn’t come back, restaurants are trying to convince employees to return to the fray. It’s a much different scenario than before, and it carries its own challenges. There’s a good chance furloughed workers left for other industries over the last six-plus months, or the competition. Or they simply want to wait it out a little longer at home.
In a survey conducted by Restaurant365, staff was mentioned as the top challenge by many restaurants. When asked how to solve the COVID-hiring dilemma, a full-service operator simply said, “overpaying.” Another provided extra pay for tipped employees at crisis’ onset.
According to the survey, 28.4 percent of operators said they still employ 81–100 percent of their pre-COVID employees, suggesting a good deal did come back. However, 17.28 percent said they only employ up to 20 percent of their pre-virus workers. And a total of 49.38 percent of respondents employ up to 60 percent (including the 17.28 percent with up to 20 percent), with 12.35 percent staffing 21–40 percent, and 19.75 percent employing 41–60 percent.
A lot of employees, like customers, remain reluctant to balance personal safety with wages. From a study by Branch, despite a loss of income, over half of employees (53 percent) were hesitant or declined to apply to new jobs due to fear of exposure.
That’s something new restaurants have to write into the recruiting playbook. Desmond Lim, founder and CEO of Workstream, says it starts with reconsidering the basics. For one, employees don't want to conduct in-person interviews anymore. "Video interviews not only make it easier for prospective employees, but it shows that a company prioritizes safety from the very start of the relationship," he says. A Workstream survey showed that over 93 percent of hiring managers easily adopted virtual interview technology, and 50 of even preferred it over traditional phone interviews.
Long-term security isn’t as powerful a lure for restaurants as it is other industries. Especially when you consider about 40 percent of employees in restaurants and bars work part time, which is more than twice the proportion for all other industries.
MyWorkChoice data found 75 of of hourly employees want flexibility to choose when and how much to work. "Keep in mind, hourly workers need to account for times of illness, quarantine, arranging childcare, and more. Absenteeism was already a problem for hourly workers, and that has only surged during COVID-19," Lim says. "Businesses that can provide more shift flexibility will continue to be extremely attractive to today’s hourly workers, who value having more autonomy and choice when it comes to working during a pandemic."
On a tech front, the same survey suggested 70 percent of of workers want the ability to communicate and schedule shifts via a mobile device.
Paid sick leave has become a key selling point for hourly employees to consider a new job offer, and employers know it, Lim adds. According to the Branch survey, 38 percent of of employers included paid sick leave as a form of financial assistance for hourly employees. This tops even bonus pay (26 percent).
"When only 51 percent of lower-wage workers had access to paid sick leave before the pandemic," Lim says. "it’s not surprising that it’s even more important to hourly workers during COVID-19. Having this safety-net makes coming into work that much easier of a decision."
In sum, the “war for talent,” or the “talent crisis,” generally, has not vanished because there are more workers to choose from. The stakes are as high as ever, and the brands that figure it out will be poised to grow on the other side of COVID—just like they were before.