At least two Chick-fil-A locations are closing their dining rooms as businesses struggle to hire enough workers to meet customers’ needs. Both restaurants are located in Alabama – one at Madison and the other at McCalla.
The Madison Chick-fil-A said in a statement posted on its Facebook page that it is currently “in the middle of a job crisis.” According to the post, the restaurant is receiving much fewer job applications than it normally does. Even worse, many applicants aren’t even showing up for their interviews.
“We have to temporarily close our dining room, turn off our mobile curbside ordering option, as well as our mobile carryout option. This was done to help reduce the stress on the team members we currently have but also to be able to still provide you with the Chick-fil-A experience you expect, just through a limited venue. We have some of the best team members in the world. They work hard every day, but they are tired and overextended. We have grown tremendously, but we need to add to our roster,” Madison Chick-fil-A said in the statement, adding that it hopes to return to its normal operations as soon as possible.
The McCalla Chick-fil-A described a similar situation. It said that it could not schedule enough workers to provide “the excellent service that our guests deserve.”
“We are very appreciative, but our team cannot continue at the pace we are at. Our team members are exhausted and there is no relief for them in our roster,” McCalla Chick-fil-A posted on its Facebook page.
“Our team humbly asks for your patience as we recalibrate. We will be closing our dining room on Monday, August 23rd. This decision was not made lightly, as we made every effort to reopen our dining room on July 20th. We will continue serving our guests in the Drive Thru and Mobile Curbside.”
Labor shortage a recurring issue during pandemic
It’s a recurring issue throughout the pandemic. In December last year, Slovenian restaurant Pakerna in Upper West Side, Manhattan was forced to close just two weeks after its opening – not for lack of customers but for lack of workers.
Waitresses that worked there left to become contact tracers while bartenders went on unemployment. Owner Dean O’Neil has never been able to establish a solid workforce.
“I couldn’t work out really why. And then I found it was basically they could receive money without having to work. Then they wanted to be paid only in cash. It’s unacceptable,” said O’Neil.
His workers took advantage of the $300 weekly enhanced unemployment insurance included in the stimulus package signed by former President Donald Trump on December 27 last year. President Joe Biden extended the $300 per week unemployment insurance supplement until Sept. 6, when he signed the $1.9 trillion stimulus package on March 11.
Fast-food chains are looking to return to business as usual as coronavirus (COVID-19) cases decline and safety restrictions loosen. There is just one problem – they cannot find enough workers. (Related: Florida McDonald’s forced to pay applicants $50 just to show up to interview because unemployment benefits are more lucrative.)
The lingering problem threatens to stall the recovery of the restaurant industry. One McDonald’s franchisee said that chains are forced to change practices due to a lack of workers. Some restaurants are shortening hours, while others are reluctant to reopen indoor dining.
“We are struggling to get people,” the McDonald’s franchisee said. “I don’t have enough and can’t get enough. Wish I had enough.”
“It’s just craziness out there. People are closing early, people are not opening lobbies,” said John Motta, a Dunkin’ franchisee who serves as chairman of the Coalition of Franchisee Association. “This is the COVID of 2021. This is the pandemic of 2021 – lack of people to work.”
Fast-food chains relied heavily on a to-go-centric model to boost sales during the pandemic, as they shuttered indoor dining. Franchisees at McDonald’s and Dunkin’ said they have refrained from reopening dining rooms in part because it’s difficult to find enough employees to staff their restaurants.
Vaccine mandates exacerbate problem
In New York City, restaurant owners have expressed concerns about some of their workers quitting if they’re required to be vaccinated.
Art Depole, who co-owns a Mooyah Burgers, Fries and Shakes franchise with his brother Nick in midtown Manhattan, said that some of his employees were not planning to get vaccinated. In a tight labor market, replacing those workers can be a huge challenge.
The city’s rules require staff and customers at dining, entertainment and fitness venues to have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to enter indoor spaces.
Some fast-food restaurants that stopped breakfast and late-night service during the pandemic were unable to open for longer hours because they can’t find enough workers. “We’re kind of struggling to hire because the only people who are applying are teenagers,” a McDonald’s manager said.
The labor shortage is making existing workers’ jobs more difficult, contributing to burnout and the vicious cycle that has helped drive away some potential employees.
The McDonald’s manager told Insider he and other managers have been forced to cover more and more shifts as their employer scrambles to hire people. “There have been days I’ve worked 16 hours because we just couldn’t get coverage for it,” the manager said.
Unemployment benefits, low salary, fear element
An employee at Outback Steakhouse in Memphis put up a sign that asked for understanding from customers and claimed that some “people just do not want to work.” The employee who posted the sign said that the stimulus package and enhanced unemployment benefits have made it harder to hire workers. (Related: States ending pandemic unemployment benefits see increase in jobs as more people decide to work.)
Credit Suisse analyst Lauren Silberman said restaurants are an “exceptionally difficult business” to work in. Bureau of Labor and Statistics data shows that the median pay for restaurant employees is just $11.63 per hour. Workers increasingly have more options outside the restaurant industry that offer a guaranteed $15 per hour.
Working in restaurants has also become more dangerous and difficult over the last year. “I think there’s a fear element,” Silberman said. “Because these are frontline workers, and we’re still in the midst of a pandemic.”
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