This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Food Management.
The past few years have served up a feast of challenges for the food service industry. From pandemic-related shutdowns and supply chain woes to surging inflation, rising costs, and labor shortages–industry leaders have had their plates full.
While some supply challenges and inflationary pressures have eased, many executives are bracing themselves for substantial annual increases in labor and input costs over the next five years. Simultaneously, a complex web of labor challenges continues to intensify as high turnover and a shrinking labor pool show no signs of slowing down.
The State of Labor in the Food Service Industry
Despite the hospitality industry posting modest job gains last week, the food service sector still lags thousands of jobs behind its pre-pandemic levels. While job growth is anticipated to rise, food service outlets spanning from restaurants and airports to venues and cafeterias–leaders continue to grapple with quit rates that top all other industries.
The demanding nature of food service work, coupled with low wages and long hours, leads to a revolving door of employees seeking higher pay and more flexibility. With shifting demographic trends and declining interest in food service jobs among younger generations, the task of finding and retaining qualified staff has grown increasingly challenging. However, there is a path forward.
Plating up a New Pool of Talent
According to the 2023 State of the Restaurant Industry Report, 65% of food service operators said they do not have enough employees to support customer demand. With staffing challenges still placing pressure on an already fragile industry, operators are turning to a labor source that has heated up in recent years: gig workers.
With flexibility at the forefront, a growing number of food service operators are tapping into the gig economy and on-demand labor apps to find workers while responding to shifts in demand. In an industry marked by seasonal fluctuations and varying event schedules, leveraging gig workers brings cost efficiency to the table by minimizing overhead expenses associated with maintaining a full-time staff during slower periods, ultimately bolstering the bottom line.
Beyond cost savings, the gig economy model fosters increased productivity. With flexibility ranked a top priority across the workforce, gig workers have the freedom to select shifts that align with their skills, schedules and preferences–resulting in higher job satisfaction.
Additionally, this approach provides access to a diverse pool of talent, allowing businesses to tap into specialized skills and expertise exactly when and where they are needed. This adaptability ensures smoother operations and enhances overall customer satisfaction while injecting fresh perspectives and ideas into the industry's ongoing innovation efforts.
As the food service industry adapts to the demands and fluctuations of today’s modern workforce, embracing the gig economy could prove to be a key ingredient for staffing success–a blend of flexibility, efficiency, and quality that benefits both operators and the workers who power them.
Dave Dempsey is the CEO of Hyer, an on-demand labor app that connects businesses to a pool of 350,000 vetted gig workers in real-time. Hyer launched in 2019 and today has expanded its footprint across 27 states and thousands of locations.