Restaurants are beginning the new year with a recurring problem: labor shortages.
Chipotle said Thursday it’s looking to hire 15,000 people in North America to ensure its stores are staffed up ahead of its busy spring season. Other chains are also looking for workers: Taco Bell has more than 25,000 listings for crew members posted on its website, while Starbucks has posted more than 10,000 listings for baristas.
U.S. restaurants have added jobs for 24 consecutive months since the height of the pandemic, according to the National Restaurant Association. But restaurant employment is still 3.6% lower than before the pandemic, or the equivalent of 450,000 jobs.
In a November survey of its members, the association found that 62% of restaurant operators said they didn’t have enough employees to satisfy customer demand. Eighty-seven percent of operators said they will hire additional employees in the next year if they find qualified applicants, but 79% said they already have job openings that have been difficult to fill.
Hudson Riehle, the association's senior vice president for research, said a growing number of jobs — like delivery drivers — outside of the restaurant industry are competing for the same workers. Restaurants are raising pay and adding benefits, but he still doesn't expect the restaurant industry workforce to return to its pre-pandemic levels this year.
Dean Nunez, the director of operations for Floriana, an Italian restaurant in Wilmington, North Carolina, said line cooks, dishwashers and other back-of-the-house jobs are the hardest to fill right now. Many of the people who used to do those jobs found work at groceries, drugstores, banks and other places during the pandemic and have never returned, he said.
Floriana has raised pay to at least $15 per hour to help fill those positions, he said. It’s charging diners more for their meals to compensate. But attracting workers — especially young people — is still hard. Most people in Floriana’s kitchen are in their 50s or 60s.
“It’s tough. It’s not for everyone,” Nunez said. “It’s long hours, it’s hot, it’s repetitive.”
Chipotle’s hiring campaign will feature current employees talking about their career progression within the company, in an effort not only to attract workers but to retain them.
Chipotle’s Chief Restaurant Officer Scott Boatwright said the hiring push aims to ensure that stores are fully staffed between March and May, Chipotle’s busiest months. The Newport Beach, California-based chain also needs employees to meet its growth plans; It wants to double its North American store count to 7,000 over the next several years.
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