Gabby Saunders and Cooper Wiggins: Unemployment checks are not the problem. The restaurant industry is.

American workers are beginning to understand their value.

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Purgatory Bar, Friday, December 8, 2017.

It is no secret that restaurants across Utah are struggling to hire staff. Just last week, Fox 13 posted an article describing the impossible situation many restaurants have found themselves in the wake of the pandemic.

Restaurant industry representatives aren’t blaming the hiring crisis on unemployment checks, but rather people leaving the restaurant industry to work at companies such as Amazon. This may be true, but what industry representatives fail to acknowledge is that they themselves are the problem.

The incredibly low pay and a lack of benefits that plague the restaurant industry failed to be counted as problems contributing to the hiring crisis. Hiro Tagai, the restaurant director for Sapa Investment Group (SIG) went as far as to say that wages weren’t the issue, as they raised pay and did not lay off any staff during the pandemic. However, a job posting for Purgatory Bar, a restaurant SIG owns, tells a very different story.

For a server, hourly pay is $2.13 an hour plus tips, with the only mention of benefits being an employee discount and a flexible schedule. In contrast, Amazon is willing to offer new warehouse workers up to $19.50 an hour with a $1,000 sign on bonus and a slew of benefits including paid time off, health insurance, employee discounts, and 401(k)s, with ample opportunities for career growth.

Both of these jobs only require a high school diploma or a GED. One of them doesn’t guarantee your pay, has unreliable hours and requires you to deal directly with ungrateful customers.

Right now, the question shouldn’t be why no one wants to work in the restaurant industry, but rather, “Who in their right mind would work in the restaurant industry?” Just like customers will not buy products that do not offer them value, laborers will not work for companies that don’t offer them value.

With companies like Amazon, Signs.com, UPS and Costco offering employees the means they need to not only survive, but enjoy life, the hiring crisis turns into a simple economics equation. The restaurant industry needs to become more competitive in the labor market. If they don’t, other companies will continue to steal their labor force.

Restaurant industry lifers who are dealing with the brunt of the hiring crisis are exhausted, drained, overworked, and for what?

The reality is simple: American workers are beginning to understand their value. If the restaurant industry continues to fail to acknowledge that value, more employees are going to leave.

If restaurants do not start providing staff with a living wage and stronger benefits, trained labor will inevitably leave for better horizons. Without trained labor, restaurants can expect to start closing their doors. After all, it’s really hard to run a restaurant if you have poorly cooked food or terrible customer service, and it is impossible if no one is there to cook, clean or serve.

(Photo by Luci Clark) Gabby Saunders

(Photo by Luci Clark) Cooper Wiggins

Gabby Saunders, Salt Lake City, and Cooper Wiggins, Draper, are the founders of RPC Communications. Together, Gabby and Cooper have been lobbying and managing political campaigns at a local, state and national level for over a decade.