In today’s tight labor market, restaurants are embroiled in a full-on food fight over workers. The rank-and-file is winning referral bonuses, free meals and days off, and the scarcity of candidates may be raising the minimum wage without help from lawmakers.
While good news for millions of lower-skilled workers who’ve felt left behind by the economic recovery, it may not be for companies and customers. Restaurants will either have to raise prices or accept falling margins. Some stores’ service is suffering.
The U.S. unemployment rate was 4.7 percent in December, near a nine-year low. With its insatiable appetite for new workers, the fast-food business serves as a leading indicator of a labor shortage. In September, annual turnover for restaurant workers jumped to 113 percent, the highest since industry-tracker People Report began collecting data in 1995.