Restaurant Industry Labor Shortages 2021

Understanding and navigating the restaurant industry’s labor shortage in 2021


Although many restaurants are now back to full operation, there is a shortage of job applications to the number of open positions. Restaurant owners all over the US are in fact experiencing major difficulties in hiring employees as the economy reopens and customer demand surges after the pandemic.

What’s happening in the restaurant industry?

When asked about how to find new hires for restaurants today, Chef Smith from restaurant meme page August Gloop says: “The struggle has never been more real.” Another follower comments: “People simply aren’t applying anymore, and “when you do get applicants, you understand why they are available.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. unemployment rate sits at 6% or 9.7 million people. However, the restaurant industry is still struggling to fill available positions.

According to, restaurant employment levels in the last month were down to about 3.6 million (58%) compared to February, while only 28.4% of businesses were able to hire 80-100% of their pre-pandemic workforce.

The lack of available staff is forcing restaurants to rethink their business plans, from altering business hours to offering limited seating.

The @august_gloop community on “hiring new restaurant staff in 2021”

Why is there a shortage of job applications?

There are several reasons for the shortage of job applications. First, restaurants are struggling to offer competitive wages and unemployment benefits. The median cook or food preparation worker made $13.02 an hour in May 2020, and dishwashers $12.15, according to the New York Times.

Therefore, some workers are finding that they can simply make more money from monthly unemployment than going back to work. Other in-demand industries like construction, commercial trucking, and Amazon are also pulling workers away with higher salaries and benefits.

Second, during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurant workers were on the frontlines and have been disproportionately affected by exposure to the virus. This uncertainty over safety conditions and instability of working at a restaurant has prompted many to permanently leave the industry in search of other lines of work.

After a year of fighting through the pandemic and keeping their doors open, restaurant workers are simply burned out, physically and mentally.

Lastly, part of the challenge of rehiring is that immigrant populations, which power much of the service industry in the U.S., have moved out from cities entirely. In fact, according to Grub Street, New York City’s immigrant population fell by over 120,000 since last March.

How is the industry responding to the hiring drought?

The hospitality industry is hard at work to find solutions to the hiring and staffing problem. These tactics range from using online recruitment platforms such as Culinary Agents, Seasoned, and Harri to posting job ads online and creating referral programs with incentives such as rewarding staff members to bring on new employees.

New grant programs and campaigns like One Fair Wage are also advocating for higher wages for food service employees.