Walk into nearly any restaurant and the effects of the labor shortage can be felt. Servers covering impossibly large sections, with long wait times revealing the kitchen is undoubtedly just as short-staffed. Understanding customers have actually become better tippers, with tipping increases out-stripping inflation, but such kindness can only go so far. To help counteract the skeleton crews and increased prices caused by inflation, employers rely ever more on their staff to provide quality service to keep customers coming back.

Even before the Great Resignation hit the workforce, restaurants had difficulty staying fully staffed. However, while many industries have been able to overcome the impact of the pandemic by increasing remote work, these options are simply unavailable to the restaurant industry. While other industries were able to offer remote work to coerce employees back to their computers, such options are not available for restaurants.

With roughly 11 million job vacancies the workforce has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels. Further adding to the stress of the industry, over 10 percent of these vacancies are in the food service industry. Additionally, just as the industry began to gather steam, inflation has caused nearly a third of restaurants to cut staff and reduce hours. In some states, ballot initiatives passed in the recent elections to raise the minimum wage only add to the uncertainty, and further increase operating costs.

Working Hard, But There Are Hardly Workers

As the workforce participation rate still remains well below pre-pandemic levels, the labor shortages in the industry are only exacerbated. Many establishments have replaced cashiers with electronic kiosks to overcome labor shortages. These can cost over a hundred thousand dollars per location, but do reduce long-term operating costs in the long run as well. However, similarly to remote options for office workers, this solution is unavailable for restaurants. Even where kiosks can be used to some extent, they may cause more problems than they solve. Workers will still be needed to answer questions about the menu and help with modifications, and customers making their own modifications will likely lead to increased waste and food cost, only further driving up ticket times. Even if servers could be completely replaced by kiosks, again an impossibility, food must still be prepared and delivered.

In lieu of remote work, restaurants have done everything in their power to attract new workers, bring back old ones, and keep existing employees on the job. Bonuses and raises have been offered, or increasing non-income benefits such as free meals. However, these efforts are but the latest battle in a losing war. While the industry struggles to return to 2020 levels, any manager can tell you labor issues in the restaurant industry existed long before the pandemic.

Here, again, the pandemic has exacerbated existing issues. Long competing to retain talent, and keep workers from leaving for other industries, the pandemic increased the number of food service employees who left for good. Furthermore, the industry has long relied on immigrant workers to stay open. However, with immigration rates still below those before the pandemic, the industry suffers on both ends. More workers than ever are leaving, while the pool of available workers has diminished. As with other labor issues, the pandemic was but the latest hurdle for food service workers to overcome, as immigration had been decreasing in the years leading up to the global shutdown.

Now Hiring

As hiring managers in other industries are learning, when it comes to finding workers patience may not be a virtue. Those waiting on workers to come to them are left with job vacancies and  no applications. Furthermore, aforementioned solutions such as electronic kiosks which reduce operating costs in the long run are unavailable to restaurants, and most efforts to increase hiring rates actually contribute to operating costs. Rather than seeking short-term solutions which are untenable and unscalable, restaurants must seek out more viable alternatives.

In order to increase hiring, managers must do all they can to find new employees. Prior to the shutdown, nearly a quarter of employees in food service were foreign-born, highlighting the increased exposure of food service to immigration levels. But even before the global shutdown, immigration rates had been declining. With such a mismatch between the need for immigrant workers and the availability of labor, something must be done to change the equation.

Fundamental to changing that equation is understanding the massive undertaking inherent in uprooting everything to go to a new country. Immigrants must leave behind all the people and places they have ever known, often on naught but hope. But employers can give them more than that. There are employees all over the world, qualified and working in the same positions U.S. restaurants are in such dire straits to fill. But these employees are nervous to make the leap.

In years past, in a different time, employers could wait out the storm, knowing the labor shortage would work itself out. But with the confluence of so many problems, now more than ever employers, especially in food service, need increased immigration to fix the labor shortage. Some businesses have already realized this, utilizing H-2B visas to bring in temporary workers from abroad. However, again as with other solutions, these do not provide long-term help. A similar program exists, the EB-3 permanent worker program, allowing employers to sponsor workers for permanent positions. By providing long-term qualified workers, the EB-3 green card program can help many restaurants overcome the labor shortage long prevalent throughout the industry.

These programs do not get much coverage. Businesses using them get a leg up on competitors, so surely will not advertise the benefits. However, especially in areas of the country experiencing rapid growth and expansion, there are simply not enough employees available to keep up. By connecting with employees abroad, companies can go a long way towards overcoming that employment gap.

Treat People Right, Get the Right People

In order to best attract employees through the EB-3 program, the benefits of the program must be understood. For over two decades I have worked to gain that understanding, and worked closely helping guide immigrants through these processes. As the CEO of a staffing solutions business, I have experienced the difficulties employers and employees face, and helped them overcome those hurdles.

First and foremost, companies must know if they even qualify for the EB-3 program, and many are unaware. We help companies not only discover if they qualify, but also how many workers they are eligible to sponsor. Employers nationwide are all offering the same perks to entice workers into the industry, using the same tactics to compete over a diminished pool of workers. Rather than expecting these to suddenly solve the problem, employers must try a different path. Knowledgeable and successful utilization of the EB-3 program can lead to a stream of qualified, enthusiastic, grateful and motivated employees within 18-24 months.

By understanding the problems faced by employers and potential employees navigating the EB-3 program, a trust can be built over time. This can lead to sustainable solutions, helping restaurants achieve long-term answers to the labor shortage in the industry. A focus on the human element, by treating those involved as we would all want to be treated in their shoes, the EB-3 worker program and solutions like it can help bring more sustainable and reliable solutions to the labor shortage in our restaurants.

John Dorer is a Global Mobility Executive with a focus on Employer Sponsored Green Card solutions, and the CEO of EB-3 Staffing Solutions for Employers. Headquartered in New York, NY, eb3.work is the leading company in the U.S. that provides effective solutions in addressing the country’s chronic and growing unskilled and entry-level labor shortage by connecting employers with foreign nationals seeking to work legally in the United States. eb3.work leverages its proprietary business processes and technology to assist qualifying U.S. companies and foreign national workers in navigating the complex U.S. immigration system.

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