DES MOINES, IA — The pandemic is still wreaking havoc in the foodservice and hospitality industry. According to the latest government numbers, a record number of workers quit their jobs in August, nearly 7% compared to 2.9% for the rest of the economy.
At a time when most restaurants were struggling to stay afloat, The Breakfast Club, a brunch spot in Des Moines, opened its doors during the pandemic.
“It's really hard right now,” said Josh Holderness, partner at The Breakfast Club.
A third of restaurant owners in Iowa have lost staff to other industries and don’t expect them to come back.
For Holderness, that means a sick call from an employee can turn things upside down.
“We just don't have the people that you can call on a moment's notice to maybe come in and cover their shifts,” he said.
But as restaurants, bars and other businesses in the hospitality industry struggle to find workers, new research suggests it’s about to get even worse.
According to a JobList survey of nearly 14,000 wage-earners, 58% of restaurant and hotel employees intend to quit their jobs by Jan. 1.
“We're really in a mode where we have to attract back workforce but also attract new workforce into our industry,” said Jessica Dunker, president & CEO of the Iowa Restaurant Association.
She says the restaurant industry is hoping an influx of working moms could help restaurants recover from worker shortages.
“We really have some powerful, unique value proposition to offer potential employees, in particular working moms,” said Dunker.
With women accounting for half the restaurant workforce, flexible schedules could lure some working moms like Nina Punelli to the ranks.
Punelli quit her last job during the pandemic, in part, because juggling a rigid work schedule while raising two remote learners became untenable.
“It was tough. It was hard to manage that. School online, [the] job as well. It was hard,” she said.
With her twin daughters back at school, Punelli returned to the workforce as a server here at The Breakfast Club.
“Flexibility really drove me as a mother to come work here,” said Punelli. “They open early and close at a great time to offer me that opportunity to still have to go, get my kids, pick them up.”
Still, employment overall in the foodservice industry is down nearly a million jobs from pre-pandemic levels, and with Americans quitting in record numbers, there may not be enough women out there to fill the void.
“Not yet,” said Dunker. “We are looking hard, and we know that we have to really market what we can bring to the table as employers to attract those high-quality workers back into our industry.”