Opinion: Restaurant, hospitality workers see little incentive to return to work

Customers enjoy a meal behind an unattended table at the Fire Up Grill in downtown Riverside Sept. 16. (Erik Galicia | Viewpoints)

By Ashley Hayner

As employers gear up for the day inside eating is a thing again, they have a huge problem. 

The old gang just isn’t interested.

With unemployment bringing home $1,200 or more every two weeks consistently, it is no wonder so many people are not returning to work. 

And I don’t blame them. But the lack of returning workers is affecting businesses.

Take the hospitality industry, for instance. Open weekend and holiday availability is required of all workers in this business, whether they are hosts, servers, bartenders, bussers or cooks. Not even management is exempt from working holidays along with the rest of the staff. 

What about Thanksgiving and Christmas? 

Hospitality workers don’t enjoy those days off with their families either. Some employees work 10 and 12 hour shifts, six days a week, often eating and even working through their short breaks. 

COVID-19 has made year-long and even permanent vacations possible for many who worked in the hospitality industry pre-pandemic. 

Employees have been furloughed, received cutbacks or even lost their jobs altogether and have had to quickly come up with a plan b. Yes, that unemployment check is nice now. But it wasn’t before, when the IRS was being bombarded with processing unemployment claims, stretching the wait for relief further and further.

Meanwhile, bills poured in. Car and home lenders swore they were doing people a favor by letting them begin paying six months worth of bills at once after six months of being jobless.

Many in hospitality found out where they stood with their companies as early as March: without a job. It was a frightening time, but people were far from lazy even with so much time on their hands.

 Folks got creative. They created artistic face masks by hand  to supplement their incomes. Some began selling insurance online, blogging, started home cleaning services, and became virtual assistants. 

Others began to master self-discipline, acquired healthier eating habits and lost weight. Because restaurants hate working around students’ schedules, many took advantage of the quarantine by going back to school and getting certified in specific training. And some people are simply enjoying spending time with their family, creating memories on the weekends and holidays they’ve never had off.

The hospitality industry needs to come up with new incentives to attract new teammates. A 20% discount on dine-in meals will no longer cut it for minimum wage employees. Even $15 per hour for part time restaurant work hardly seems worth it anymore.

Why would anyone run back to hard labor for long hours with stressful customers every single weekend without paid vacations or any benefits?