Retail food service industry desperate to hire

Maryland

HANCOCK, Md. (WDVM) — Now that so many are being vaccinated restaurants are looking forward to serving more customers. But there is a desperate shortage of servers for all those returning customers.

With many hoping that COVID will soon be behind us, we are dining out more now, right? Well, it’s not quite that simple.

Dorothy Hopfer — or “Dottie,” as she is called by her friends — has served at the Park ‘n Dine in Hancock, Maryland for most of the past 10 years. The diner closed for a while during the pandemic. But with COVID vaccines available, Hopfer said that “business has picked up a good bit.”

Hopfer said, “I’ve seen more activity in the town, more travelers on the road.”

The Park ‘n Dine, like the entire foodservice industry, faces a challenging labor shortage. Workers who were laid off or who left their jobs during the COVID crisis are not returning in the numbers employers need to keep their doors open.

Wages have been increased along with other incentives to staff food service and dining operations, but those employment applications sit without any takers. Dottie’s coworker believes she knows the reason.

“They collect more on unemployment than they would their wages, so why come back?” said Rebecca Burkett, another long-time Park ‘n Dine employee. “So the rest of us have to make up for that.”

Some of the big national chains like Chipotle Mexican Grill are offering free college tuition in exchange for a 15 hour per week commitment for four months. TGI Fridays just increased their hourly wage.

‘I see ‘now hiring’ signs, you know, in a lot of places,” says Burkett.

Some other well-known national chains like Starbucks are expanding, with more locations. The company has boosted its starting pay to $15 an hour. Some restaurants are offering $250 hiring bonuses and turning to social media to recruit employees.

Those supplemental jobless benefits of $300-a-week can often surpass the weekly pay for a full-time food service worker.

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