5 Reasons Why Your Restaurant Might Be Understaffed This Summer

By: AJ Beltis

5 Minute Read

Jul 16, 2018

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summer restaurant workers

Summer's officially here, which means it's time to staff up for the season.

Well, at least that's what it's supposed to mean. But this summer, many businesses may experience a summer labor shortage.

There's no one reason why this is happening – it's a combined issue of government regulations, changing mentalities, and a fundamental shift in the modern restaurant workforce.

Here are five of the reasons why your restaurant might be understaffed this summer.

1. The Restaurant Workforce is Shrinking

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of workers in the restaurant industry is at its lowest since 2013 and shrunk last year for the first time this decade.

In 2017, there were 13.2 million people working in the restaurant industry, a decline of more than one million people from the year before.

restaurant summer job

Graph from Statista

There are a few reasons for this drop in the restaurant workforce. Primarily, though, the strong economy has pushed people towards jobs that are often perceived as more permanent and better-paying. There's also a consistent year-over-year increase of Bachelor's degree recipients in the country, putting workers on different paths.

This leaves employers scrambling to find help all year long. No wonder 59% of restaurateurs name staffing a top challenge in 2018.

2. Less Teens Are Working in Restaurants

In 2000, 45% of teens were in the workforce.

That number is now down to 30%.

The amount of restaurants that would employee these teens has not similarly decreased, but rather increased, according to the New York Times with the Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

restaurant summer jobs

Whatever happened to the days of teens lining up to run the drive-through? BLS projects teen workforce numbers will continue to decline well into the next decade.

restaurant summer labor

3. College Students Are Spending Their Summer on Internships

An increased emphasis on the need for academic internships has college students suiting up for the summer instead of serving diners. While many students pursue an internship during the academic year, employers are expecting candidates to come in with multiple internships – 65% want candidates to have two or more by the time they graduate.

With only so much time during the semester, many students decide to find this professional work during the summertime, robbing restaurants of the opportunity to employ students home for the summer.

4. A Shortage of Visas is Impacting Immigrant Workers

H-2B visas, according to the USCIS, are visas for temporary, agricultural workers. Visit the USCIS website for more information on the purpose of these visas and accurate information.

Earlier this year, Congress capped the number of H-2B visas to 66,000 for the entire year through a lottery system, limiting the amount of non-citizens legally allowed to provide work for restaurants during these summer months.

Many restaurants taking the hit from this decision are seasonal restaurants, like those on Cape Cod summer haven Martha's Vineyard. These restaurants may not have the permanent, year-round staff to support the influx of summer diners, and without visa recipients, these restaurants will have to find workers elsewhere, as their usual workforce is no longer guaranteed entry into the country.

The silver lining? "On May 31, 2018, the Departments of Homeland Security and Labor published a temporary final rule (PDF) increasing the numerical limit ('cap') on H-2B nonimmigrant visas by up to 15,000 additional visas through the end of fiscal year (FY) 2018," according to the USCIS website. The increase was for "American businesses which, among other things, attest that they will likely suffer irreparable harm without the ability to employ all the H-2B workers requested in their petition."

5. There Are Just Too Many Restaurants to Choose From

Normally, 13 million people willing to work in just one industry would be a good thing – but not for restaurants.

There are over one million restaurant locations in the country, meaning that there are only 13 employees per restaurant on average. For large, high-volume restaurants, that number is rarely enough.

Eater asked the important question in an article, "Are There Too Many Restaurants?" Author Amanda Kludt bluntly declares "something's gotta give here."

Fact is, even without the labor shortage, the sheer number of restaurants to work in has ignited the restaurant industry's war for talent. Restaurant workers have so many options, so it should be clear why restaurants are feeling the pains of the tight labor market this summer.

Surviving This Summer's Restaurant Labor Shortage

Gear up for a long summer, but don't worry; with a positive restaurant culture, you'll be able to hire, attract, and retain restaurant employees.

If you're staffing up for the summer, try a few of these resources as you navigate the restaurant labor shortage:

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