If you happen to follow any of your favorite local restaurants' social media accounts, I'm sure you've seen posts lately announcing that they are hiring. Some have even gone as far as to state they would love to expand to pre-COVID hours but can't until they have the staff.
Sadly, I saw a post Saturday from a restaurant up north saying they weren't able to open Sunday because of a lack of employees. So where have all the former food workers gone? On that same post, one person shared a meme essentially pondering what the world would be like if only the restaurant industry paid more than unemployment benefits...That's more complicated than it sounds as unemployment benefits are based off wages before a job loss. For servers, that includes tipped wages, which means they can choose to report to the Department of Labor & Employment those weeks where they made their highest gratuities to represent their "average" pay.
Some servers will, therefore, make more on unemployment when using their best week as a baseline. Regardless, it's hard for me to believe our local restaurant owners wouldn't pay their staff more if they were able to. I could be wrong in some instances, but I seriously doubt restaurateurs are stuffing money in their own pockets while avoiding paying their employees a fair wage — especially considering the beating the industry's taken during the pandemic.
Some might say those servers would be wise to take the jobs available now as, eventually, unemployment will run out. If they wait too long, they might find themselves without benefits and still unemployed as those positions have been filled. And an increase in vaccinations means returning to work is less of a health threat for restaurant staff. Here's another theory: Maybe those former food workers have found employment elsewhere.
Jobs were, after all, created because of the COVID-19 pandemic — like stockers and cashiers at grocery stores or contact tracers and temperature screeners at health care facilities.Or maybe the shortage is a combination of both factors. I honestly don't know the answer — nor does anyone else, it appears.
My only hope is that we find a resolution soon or, I fear, some of our favorite local restaurants might not survive much longer. Want to know more? Pick up the Indy's May 5 issue where we look at what's causing the local restaurant worker shortage and how those in the industry are hoping to address it.
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