Foodservice Operators Struggle to Fill Open Positions

Employers consider increasing wages and benefits to attract workers.

April 20, 2021

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ALEXANDRIA, Va.—As COVID-19 cases decline and safety restrictions relax, foodservice operators want to return to business as usual. But they’re face with one serious problem. They can’t find enough workers, reports In fact, 42% of small business owners said they had job openings that they could not fill, according to a March survey by the National Federation of Independent Business

Over the past year, foodservice operators with drive-thrus shuttered their dining rooms and relied on a to-go-centric model to boost sales. Now many, including franchisees at McDonald's and Dunkin', say they hesitate to reopen dining areas because they can’t hire enough employees to serve customers.

After a period of flexibility in hours at Subway, many franchisees pushed back against corporate demands to return to pre-pandemic hours in the fall. A McDonald's manager said that his location has not brought back 24-hour service because it’s still difficult to staff the early and late shifts of the day. 

"We're kind of struggling to hire because the only people who are applying are teenagers," the McDonald's manager said. 

Naturally, the labor shortage makes the jobs of existing workers more difficult, which causes burnout and discourages some potential new workers from signing on. Plus, many foodservice managers are covering the unfilled shifts themselves, with some reporting working 16 hours straight. According to Motta, exhausted and over-stretched employees make more mistakes, resulting in displeased customers.

Foodservice operators who spoke with Business Insider said the stimulus package and enhanced unemployment benefits have made it harder to hire workers. But Credit Suisse analyst Lauren Silberman reports that the industry struggled to find enough workers long before the latest stimulus package was approved. 

Restaurants are an "exceptionally difficult business" to work in, Silberman said. Employees face a high rate of sexual harassment and assault on the job, while Bureau of Labor and Statistics data show that the median pay is $11.63 per hour. Jobseekers have more options outside the restaurant industry. Major retailers such as Amazon and Target offer a guaranteed $15 per hour, and employers like Uber and DoorDash offer more flexibility. 

IHOP, McDonald's and Taco Bell are holding recruitment events and hope to hire thousands of workers. As NACS Daily reported last month, Sheetz held a one-day hiring campaign at 619 store locations in an effort to attract 2,800 new employees. And next week, Pilot Company will conduct a virtual hiring event in hopes of finding 5,000 new workers nationwide, following trending job recruitment processes, such as those outlined by GPM Investments during the NACS Human Resources Forum.

Chains are increasing perks, including new benefits for managers at Taco Bell and a leadership conference for employees at Whataburger. But perks only go so far. Chains will have to pay workers higher wages to compete with companies that have already established a starting wage of $15 per hour due to the labor shortage. reports that Blake Casper, a McDonald's franchisee in Florida, is paying people $50 just to show up for a job interview but is attracting few applicants. Casper said he’s surprised that offering people $50 to come in for an interview has not generated many applicants. He’s had more success with referral programs, signing bonuses and allowing people to apply via text message. Last week alone, his 60 restaurants hired 115 new workers. As a result, Casper is considering increasing starting wages from $12—$3 above Florida's minimum wage—to $13 to attract more employees.

"The biggest challenge out there is the federal government and the state government are going to continue with this unemployment, because that is truly creating the incentive to not work right now," Casper told "And how do you blame somebody? You can make more money on unemployment—and so, we've got to be at least above that."