Sep 19, 2022 - Business

Restaurants face labor shortages amid back-to-school season

Illustration of an empty cash register with it's display flashing "HELP".
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

With Texas students headed back to school, already short-staffed restaurants are losing much-needed workers.

Why it matters: The local leisure and hospitality industry has more employees than ever before, but restaurants are still struggling to bounce back from the pandemic, and labor shortages across the industry — now coupled with higher costs for everything — continue to hurt business.

What's happening: Recent data from the Texas Restaurant Association found that just over two-thirds of the state's restaurant operators do not have enough employees to support customer demand.

  • The group surveyed restaurants from July 14-Aug. 5.

What they're saying: The figure has remained fairly consistent in recent years, but back-to-school season tends to exacerbate those shortages, according to Kelsey Erickson Streufert, spokesperson for the Texas Restaurant Association.

  • "We're an industry that does rely quite heavily on students and young people — summer jobs, part-time jobs," Erickson Streufert said. "At the same time, [customer] demand tends to fall pretty significantly around this back-to-school time."

Zoom out: Restaurants nationwide are wrestling with worker shortages as students return to classrooms.

  • Nationally, 60% of restaurants have reduced hours of operation, while 38% are closed on days they would normally be open, according to August figures from the National Restaurant Association.

The good news: Texas' rapid growth has allowed the leisure and hospitality workforce to surpass pre-pandemic levels, according to U.S. Bureau and Labor Statistics data.

  • The Austin area employed 140,000 leisure and hospitality employees in July 2022, the latest data available, up from roughly 137,000 during the same period in 2019.
  • Yes, but: Demand has grown significantly, and employee growth hasn't been enough to meet restaurants' needs, Erickson Streufert said.

What to watch: The gaping holes in the labor market locally and nationwide are forcing business owners to increase wages and provide other incentives, like more vacation days, to attract — and retain — employees.

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