The latest casualty of the US labour shortage is the generous restaurant tip, according to a server interviewed by CNN.
A dearth of workers available to serve, bus tables, prepare food, and clean up has put many food and drink establishments in a difficult position as the sector strives to move beyond the Covid-19 pandemic.
Karen McLaughlin has worked at Provino’s, an Italian restaurant in Chattanooga, Tennessee for about two years and is feeling the brunt of the staffing shortages experienced by the industry.
Even when new staff members are hired, some never show up, and others quit within a week, she says.
When that happens, it is all hands on deck, with the on-duty staff filling in wherever they are needed.
This results in servers spending less time with customers and subsequently earning smaller or fewer tips.
“If you’re having to do other things ... then you make less,” says Ms McLaughlin, who likes the flexibility of a restaurant job so that she can spend more time with her grandson.
“I thoroughly enjoy what I do,” she told CNN. “Except for this year.”
Ms McLaughlin says that on some days servers have to bus their own tables, work the food line, prepare salads, and wash dishes.
She understands why younger, less experienced people find the job unappealing because the work is harder than it used to be and the prospect of things improving anytime soon seems remote.
General manager John Miles, who has been at the restaurant for 36 years, says that employee pay is adjusted when they have to take on other roles, and acknowledges that the current environment is very difficult given the shortage of workers.
“I asked everyone to do their best. And some of them have gone beyond that.”
A report by The New York Times concurs with the experience of Ms McLaughlin, noting that after an outpouring of generosity to restaurant workers following the March 2020 shutdown in New York, since last summer tipping has dropped.
Even as restaurant patrons feel some sort of return to normality by being able to dine out without restrictions, staff at the same establishments are being hit hard by the staffing crisis.
In New York, which brought in outdoor dining to help the struggling food and drink industry when indoor seating was prohibited, this shortage is compounded by some restaurants doubling or tripling their capacity with sidewalk and curbside space.
On top of that, the pandemic brought with it greater demand for take-out and delivery food.
With fewer members of staff and potentially more people to serve, the restaurant workload is not back to normal — it has in fact increased.
The result is harried staff and dissatisfied customers, and the employees are ultimately the ones who are penalised.
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