Restaurants operating with skeleton crews, being forced to cut hours. Inflation forcing many businesses to raise prices, while forcing many customers to stay home. Any restaurant owner knows the best way to blunt that pain for customers is to provide quick and quality service. Instead, the labor shortage exacerbates these issues, placing more stress on existing employees, which will only add to the stress on the workforce.
While the pandemic may be over for some, its impact continues to be felt in the labor market, with the workforce still in need of nearly 11 million workers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1.3 million of those vacancies are in foodservice. Of all of the industries still feeling the pinch, perhaps none continue to be impacted as much as the restaurant industry.
Long before the Great Resignation, restaurants had been struggling to maintain full employment. Some industries were able to weather the spike in resignations during COVID, or employees not returning to work after — the labor force participation rate remains a full percentage point below pre-pandemic levels. However, for restaurants, the changes after the pandemic are still being felt. As restaurants struggle to get back to pre-pandemic levels, long-standing difficulties remain.
Need that ‘on the fly’
While many quick-service restaurants have turned to kiosks and electronic ordering, these can only go so far to solving the problem — and implementing them can cost over $100,000 per store. Furthermore, as any restaurant employee can tell you, such technology cannot be deployed alone. Customers have questions about the menu and how to make modifications and, of course, computers can crash. Also, even if none of that were the case, someone still has to prepare and deliver the food.
To attract and retain talent necessary to run a restaurant, with or without kiosks, employers have pulled out all of the stops. Increases in pay, bonuses, non-income perks — they’ve left no stone unturned in the effort to reach operational capacity. But the labor issues in the industry pre-date the pandemic, and so these efforts will struggle to return the industry to 2020, nevermind to resolve the issues that were prevalent before then.
The problem is that far too many who have left restaurants have no plans to return. In addition, an industry that has long relied on immigrant workers to keep the doors open has suffered doubly. In addition to the spike in workers leaving, the number of workers available for hire has plummeted. Immigration rates have yet to reach pre-pandemic levels, to say nothing of the fact that even prior to 2020 immigration had fallen for several years consecutively.
Given all of this, employers can no longer wait for employees to come to them.
Efforts to attract workers from the workforce too often fall short, as jobs remain vacant while employers receive no applications. Rather than bonuses and added perks — short-term fixes that add significantly to operating costs — employers must look for more sustainable solutions. Before the pandemic, over a fifth of employees in foodservice were foreign-born. However, similar to with the domestic workforce, lingering effects of the pandemic mean employers can no longer wait for these workers to come to them.
As any who have done so will tell you, the decision to move to another country, leaving behind everything on a leap of faith, is not one that is made lightly. In such fraught times, even more so. However, all over the world there are highly qualified workers, working in a similar situation in their restaurant, but there is a ceiling in their country. They are highly qualified for the positions they go into, but they are also nervous to take that leap.
Rather than relying on the U.S. workforce to return to an era past, many have pointed to the importance of immigrants to fix the labor shortage. Rather than wait for immigrants to come to them, some businesses already take advantage of H-2B visas, but many are unaware of a similar program, the EB-3 permanent worker program. Employers who already rely on bringing in workers on a temporary basis can get year-round, long-term help.
Such programs obviously give companies a leg up on their competition, so you will not see them going out of their way to talk about it. But there are many things companies can do to connect with employees abroad. Especially in areas of the country experiencing rapid growth, people are moving there and restaurants are opening faster than they can find employees.
Human problem, human solution
To bring in new employees, all of these benefits must be understood. As the CEO of a staffing solutions business that works closely with immigrants going through these processes, I have seen first-hand the difficulties faced by employers and employees of navigating the system.
Many employers do not know if they qualify to sponsor and employ EB-3 workers, and so we help determine if they qualify and, if so, how many workers they are eligible to sponsor. Rather than offering a raise or free meals, with little more than a hope and a prayer it will work, we help employers utilize the EB-3 program, which can lead to a stream of qualified, enthusiastic, grateful and motivated employees within 18-24 months.
By working with employees and employers, by helping build and foster that trust, a more long-term and sustainable solution to the labor shortage can be found. By understanding the human side of the problem, and approaching all those involved with the same kindness and care we would want, the EB-3 worker program and solutions like it can help bring more sustainable and reliable solutions to the labor shortage in our restaurants.
John Dorer is a Global Mobility Executive with a focus on Employer Sponsored Green Card solutions, and the CEO of EB-3 Staffing Solutions for Employers. Headquartered in New York City, eb3.work is the leading company in the U.S. that provides effective solutions in addressing the country’s chronic and growing unskilled and entry-level labor shortage by connecting employers with foreign nationals seeking to work legally in the United States. eb3.work leverages its proprietary business processes and technology to assist qualifying U.S. companies and foreign national workers in navigating the complex U.S. immigration system.