Amato: Understaffed Seattle restaurants don’t tell the whole story

Feb 21, 2019, 4:26 PM | Updated: Feb 22, 2019, 6:11 pm

The staffing shortages among Seattle restaurants have been well documented. According to a recent Q13 article, in December 2018, Western Washington had roughly 6,500 restaurant worker openings. Meanwhile, local diners like Roxy’s have been reporting a severe shortage of short-order cooks.

For the owners, it’s been a problem. But what is the staffing crisis really telling us?

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The truth is, restaurant staffing issues aren’t unique to Seattle. In fact, it’s a situation a good deal of booming, robust economies have.

The restaurant industry is far from suffering either. According to The Seattle Times, 362 new restaurants opened in 2018, versus just 72 closures. Sean Beaver of the Full Service Workers Alliance said it has actually become a friendly market for job seekers.

“There are a lot of jobs to be had out there,” Beaver said. “I think as a result, you see people being able to be a little pickier about what they choose to do.”

With the numerous options comes high turnover. As a result, according to Beaver, bar-backs, servers, and cooks are also making more money, as businesses look to keep them employed.

“I think workers were being paid more than $15 per hour even before the minimum wage hike, especially the back-of-the-house people, but there’s definitely a fierce competition to scoop up that talent and retain it,” Beaver said.

According to The New York Times, owners in high-turnover areas are offering incentives to keep talent around, including repaying culinary-school tuition, offering more flexible schedules, and creating a faster pipeline up the ranks. One business even offered employees a tequila-tasting seminar as an incentive.

Here in Seattle, some restaurants are giving entry-level positions to ex-cons and homeless people. Mod Pizza, FareStart, and Tom Douglas Restaurants hire these individuals as a second chance at employment.

Along with it being an open job market, consumers are also reaping the benefits. With more competition comes the desire to perform. With better restaurants, consumers are getting more for their money, and in turn, are more willing to spend money. It’s only positive for customers when businesses are competing for their wallets.

All in all, understaffed restaurants are a temporary problem and a product of a growing economy.

“I don’t think it’s specifically a Seattle issue,” Beaver said. “We see this with a lot of major Metropolitan areas, probably all or most major metropolitan areas of the country.”

So if you’re an aspiring chef, bartender or server, you have your pick of a very large litter here in Seattle. And if you’re looking to dine out tonight, you also have a lot of options.

Jason Rantz on AM 770 KTTH
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Amato: Understaffed Seattle restaurants don’t tell the whole story