Here’s why restaurant workers say they left the industry during the pandemic & won’t be back

A waiter carries cafes and croissants in a caf Wednesday, May, 19, 2021 in Strasbourg, eastern France. It's a grand day for the French. Caf and restaurant terraces are reopening Wednesday after a shutdown of more than six months deprived people of what feels like the essence of life sipping coffee and wine with friends outdoors to save lives during the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias) (Jean-Francois Badias, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The coronavirus pandemic hit millions of companies and employees hard, especially within the restaurant industry. Now that the world is getting back to “normal,” some businesses say their help-wanted ads are going unanswered.

For months, restaurateurs across the country have been complaining about an industrywide labor shortage. Some restaurant owners blamed increased unemployment benefits for the current restaurant labor shortage. Others say that’s not the case.

Some employees say all they really want are wages that make the risk worth it. Many workers are feeling restless. Others have lost faith in the industry as a viable career path.

News4Jax asked viewers currently in or fresh out of the restaurant industry their thoughts on how the environment has changed and what could drive unemployed people to pick other jobs besides those in the food industry.

Among the responses, we found, most dealt with three things: Pay and lack of benefits, customers, and simply finding a better job after restaurants closed during the pandemic.

Money, benefits & better jobs

The misconception most ex-restaurant workers want to make clear is that they had a decision to make when restaurants closed and new opportunities presented themselves.

“I know several people in the restaurant industry that used this time to swap industries,” Tscharner Darby told News4Jax. “It wasn’t that they were living off unemployment, they went and got better jobs.”

Another News4Jax submission touched on that same explanation.

“When the restaurants closed I found work in a call center,” Julia Gilbert said. “It’s been a year, I am now working from home. And it would take a financial disaster of epic proportions (like facing eviction and serving was the only job available) to convince me to even consider waiting tables ever again. Even part-time.”

Other food industry workers said money really drove them to find something new.

“Restaurants refuse to pay decent livable wages in general,” an anonymous submission said. “I worked for Cracker Barrel for 14 years and they wouldn’t pay me over $11 an hour.”

“The workplace is not what it used to be. Because of the shortage of employees sure to the pandemic, the employees that are working are making the same little pay and taking on tons of extra work,” another anonymous user said. “That’s what is driving a lot of workers out. And even with the small increase in pay it still doesn’t compensate for the amount of work that you will have to do now.”

Lack of benefits and perks was another reason listed when looking at why there is a lack of restaurant workers.

“I’ve spent close to 40 years in the restaurant industry,” Craig Carr said. “The lack of workers has nothing to do with unemployment benefits and everything to do with lousy wages and a lack of benefits/perks. I worked through the pandemic and never got a dime of unemployment. However, I’m considering leaving the business because I’m tired of being offered $13 an hour with no insurance benefits, or even a free meal during a shift. Also, restaurant workers hardly ever get an actual break...”


Restaraunt workers have had enough of rude customers. Waiters and waitresses rely on tips to stay afloat, which is why customers have driven them out the door.

“Customers have come to expect the same level of service post-pandemic they were used to pre-pandemic which is simply not possible,” Carlton Maddox said. “Labor shortages and supply chain issues have complicated day to day restaurant operations.”

Some in the food industry describe the way customers treat them as being “beaten down,” “stressed” and “disrespected.”

“I was a restaurant manager and left a few months ago for a new job outside of the food and beverage industry,” an anonymous user said. “I took a lower-paying job because the money was no longer worth the stress of managing a business full of over-worked employees constantly being beaten down by customers. The restaurant company had stopped paying bonuses so people were making less but working more. Even when sales returned, the company continued to cut from employees’ pockets to make up for what was lost during the start of the pandemic. Many like myself have walked away due to the stress and lack of appreciation from companies as well as the customers.”

So next time you sit down as a customer at a restaurant, here’s what you can do: Treat your servers, bartenders and kitchen staff with respect. Be patient. Expect the restaurant to be out of a few items. Tip and be polite.

You can still weigh in below and tell us your thoughts on working in the restaurant industry during the pandemic.

About the Author:

Carianne Luter is a social media producer for News4Jax and has worked at Channel 4 since December 2015. She graduated from the University of North Florida with a communication degree.