Express press service
NEW DELHI: Restaurants are opening and people have started going out for a bite to eat at their favorite spots. The sector is recovering from the pains of the Covid-19 pandemic, however, all is not well within the industry as it struggles to find staff to be able to function properly. Experts and industry players attribute the shortage to pandemic-induced reasons. The main one being that many people working in these restaurants left with a one-way ticket to their hometown. Many others, meanwhile, have moved on to jobs that offer better pay and better work-life balance.
For example, burger joint Wat-a-Burger is expanding with a goal of hitting 100 outlets by the end of this fiscal year, according to its co-founder Rajat Jaiswal, who adds that counts Given the steady growth rate, the quick-service restaurant (QSR) chain typically lacks 10% of the employees needed to operate each month. “As we cater to the demands of many outlets, we are frequently short of workers to maintain and operate the kitchen. We find it difficult to hire knowledgeable billing staff as we expand into remote locations,” says Jaiswal.
The most likely explanation for the shortage, he said, is a sudden increase in demand from all businesses following the return to normal after the Covid-19 pandemic. Another reason, he adds, is that the Covid-19 period has resulted in virtually no or minimal employee training, which has contributed to a temporary decline in the availability of skilled labor or even first-year students in certain sectors. “Running businesses with fewer staff while aiming to generate higher revenues is currently increasing management stress,” adds Jaiswal.
Jubilant Foodworks, which operates Domino’s Pizza and Dunkin’ restaurants in India, also reported a labor shortage in the company’s latest earnings call. “We are seeing some pressure on work and on the workforce, nothing that is unmanageable, but there is some inflation on the workforce as minimum wages are revised,” said Pratik Pota, CEO of the company.
Rashmi Daga, founder of the QSR Freshmenu chain, which operates 34 kitchens in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, echoes a similar sentiment. “The labor shortage is a reality throughout the industry. Largely the reason for this is that during the lockdown many people returned home when restaurants had to close and although the industry rebounded the same number of people who left did not return. Some of these people have decided to stay in their villages and work there,” says Daga. For Freshmenu, she says, it becomes relatively easier as many referrals, estimating that around 30% of the workforce is not yet back, Daga notes, “More organized players will be able to get labor while stand-alone stores will have a much harder time.”
In terms of roles, she points out that it’s more on the cooking side because it was largely migrants who were in the field. “It’s going to be a six-month journey to attract the right talent. Over the next six months, people in the industry will have to be shrewd in their recruiting methods.
Online delivery platforms have also observed a shortage of delivery staff, which has made them unable to meet the growing demand, thus adding to the woes. In 2020, when unprecedented and large-scale shutdowns hit the sector which was already struggling with labor shortages and high fluctuations, thousands of people were left without jobs in a short time, which has led to an alarming shortage of skilled labor in the medium term, says Manu Saigal, Chief Personnel Officer, Adecco India, a temporary employment company. She estimates that the occupancy rate in the hospitality sector has fallen to almost 34.4%, from more than 60% in recent years.
Speaking of other issues plaguing the sector, Sejal says, “Base wages in the industry have always been lower despite the high workload, but this shortfall is often offset by the ‘additional income’ in the form of tips and of commissions. Higher paid positions are also difficult to fill as they sometimes involve a lot of unpaid overtime and long working hours. If you put these factors together, the industry is less attractive to young people today, who are courted by other sectors.
A recent perception among hospitality employees who have witnessed the unprecedented toll, she explains, has deterred skilled talent from moving to other industries that offer more job security or balance between professional and private life, which further increases the shortage of skilled labour.
Main reasons for labor shortage
Many people who were employed in the labor market before Covid left for their cities and did not return
Skills gap created during the pandemic as most restaurants closed during the period
Job security Low pay