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A labor shortage in the restaurant industry highlights the need for a change in workplace culture

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Photo: Pixabay

The hospitality industry is at what could be a watershed moment. Restaurants are struggling to hire as the economy picks up again from the pandemic driven recession, and the staff shortage has shone a light on issues with restaurant culture. From improving pay and conditions to addressing harassment and mistreatment of staff, industry insiders say change is needed. 

For a closer look at what that means for the hospitality industry, and for Central Florida’s economy, we speak with Orlando Weekly restaurant critic Faiyaz Kara, operating partner at The Pinery Carol Holladay, UCF Rosen School of Hospitality professor, Dr. Robertico Croes, and Sodexo vice president of supply management Aaron LaMotte

“The reasons as to why there’s such a smaller pool of candidates has been well documented: the lack of pay and the lack of benefits, there’s no time off. But I think more than that the industry has a sort of tarnished reputation,” says Kara, who wrote that Orlando restaurants were facing an ‘epic labor shortage.’

“Many people took the pandemic as a as an opportunity to sort of reevaluate their lives, and some went back to school to take a potentially different career path whereas others, you know, went to work for companies like Target or Walmart or UPS or Amazon,” he says.

Holladay, who opened her restaurant last June, says hiring for some roles has been a challenge.

“It’s been a little spotty getting people in the back of the house, I think more so than the front of the house,” says Holladay.

She says creating a good workplace culture is crucial.

“Now we’re not going to have a big kumbaya circle, as much as I would love that, sometimes, it doesn’t happen,” says Holladay.

“But I try to get them to participate in activities that we do as a group. And that puts more value and more stock in in the Pinery, and in Ivanhoe, and in Orlando, in general and the hospitality community. So those are kind of the things that I focus on in my business, and the conversations I have with my staff.”

Sodexo supplies food for hospitals, nursing homes and schools, and LaMotte says the labor shortage and problems in the supply chain are affecting every part of the business.

“We see it starting all the way back at the at the grower -shipper level with the food production, all the way through to the manufacturing piece into distribution, a tremendous shortage of drivers to get the products from the last point of distribution to the point of sale, you know, the issues that that we’re all feeling from a labor crunch are dramatically affecting all aspects of everything we do.”

Croes says a survey of about 1,000 US hospitality workers conducted by the Rosen College of Hospitality Management found that about 30% of them had quit or were looking to pursue other careers.

He says paying workers more would help, but higher wages is not the only thing that can keep workers in the hospitality industry.

“We found that is important. But that’s not enough. I mean, people are reassessing their whole life situation in terms of work-life balance, time with their family, stress, value, being respected, considering what they were doing as valuable.”

Croes says the hospitality industry had a high staff turnover rate before 2020, and it was accelerated by the pandemic. He says the industry has to change or it will continue to face the same problems.

“It has to do with a business model that really is not sustainable. And that is our message. And whatever you want to do, if you don’t take care and really revisit that business model, you know, you will not make it in the future.”

“Yeah, I do see it as a problem,” says Holladay.

“But I feel that it is solvable, if you just keep plugging away at it and the more things that you do to kind of help [employees] out, they tend to want to help you out as well.”

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Matthew Peddie

About Matthew Peddie

Host of WMFE's Intersection & Assistant News Director

Matthew Peddie grew up in New Zealand and studied journalism at the University of Western Ontario. After graduating with an MA in Journalism he returned to Christchurch, working as a reporter for Radio Live and Radio New Zealand. He’s reported live from the scene of earthquakes, criminal trials and rugby ... Read Full Bio »