‘People are just walking out in the middle of shifts’: What it’s like to work in a restaurant right now

Going out to eat might feel a little different these days. Maybe you’re waiting longer for a table, even though the restaurant doesn’t appear full. Or maybe your service is slower, and your server seems anxious.

That’s because restaurants across the United States are understaffed, and jobs that were already stressful have gotten even more difficult.

Workers interviewed by Business reporters said they’re struggling in the short-staffed environment. Servers are stepping into other roles as overworked back-of-the-house employees quit, and sometimes seeing their tips ebb as they scramble to keep up with the new responsibilities. Fed-up colleagues sometimes quit in the middle of their shifts.

They’re in this situation because during the pandemic, many workers were laid off, as safety measures required some restaurants to close dining entirely. Eventually, when restaurants started re-hiring, they found a smaller pool of potential employees. Some moved away, others found new jobs in other industries. Some are still staying home to care for children or other dependents. Some, fed up with what are often low wages for the arduous work, vowed never to return.

In an attempt to woo those still interested in restaurant jobs, some employers have raised wages or increased perks. The extras may help, but they can’t fix the fact that when restaurants are understaffed, those coming in have to pick up a lot of extra slack.

Some are planning to stick it out, while others wonder if it’s time for them to exit the industry themselves.

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