Help Wanted!

I am from the northern suburbs of NYC and I have been noticing ‘Help Wanted’ signs posted on food service establishments of every sort from tablecloth spots to fast food. All job levels, from front of the house to back. A random walk thru one of my neighboring towns here in Westchester County yielded at least 5. Now, I understand that there is always some turnover when school starts up, but I have the feeling there is more going on here. It’s like the pool of experienced help is drying up. I have heard a lot of complaints from restaurant owners, too.
Could it be that all this immigration chaos is exacerbating the problem? How is it where you are?

Immigration chaos is likely to exacerbate any problem where immigrants feature heavily.

The UK is about to hit a very major problem within our hospitality industry, as we leave the European Union. Hotel and restaurant work currently appeals to young, often well educated, people from other EU countries. There is some evidence that they move to the UK, perhaps after graduation, for a couple of years, as a “gap period” that also improves their command of English - and then move on to undertake their chosen careers. The most recent statistics confirm an increase in EU citizens leaving the UK and a decrease in the numbers of new ones arriving. A double whammy if you will. In a situation where employment amongst Britons is at the highest level for more than a generation, there is a not a body of workers available to take up vacancies (even leaving aside an historicl British reluctance to work in this field. I could only assume that much of the recent rhetoric about immigration in America will be starting to have similar, albeit not identical, outcomes.


Now that is an interesting twist between the two countries. In UK you get “well educated young people” where in US we often get uneducated migrant workers. What is the minimum wage there? This honestly brings to point my feelings on the immigration argument here in the US. When the argument is made that “illegals” take the jobs that Americans don’t want, I counter that with; It’s not that American’s don’t want the job, they are just unwilling to do it for the same wage(s) as the illegal immigrant.

I think what is often lost in the argument (full disclosure I have owned several restaurants and bars over the years and have willingly employed dozens of illegal workers over the years) is the fact in a free market economy, such as ours, supply vs. demand will dictate a “fair wage”. In other words, as long as there is an endless supply of illegal workers that are willing to do jobs for “sub-par” wages, then employers (myself included) will continue to only offer the “sub-par” wage(s).

If the flow of illegal workers were to stop, a restaurant for example, that is offering $7.00 for a dishwasher might not be able to attract a domestic worker for that wage. What is going to happen? Is the restaurant not going to wash their dishes? Of course not, they are going to have to offer $7.50 - $8.00 - $8.50-$9.00 etc. until it attracts the worker who is willing to do the job. This is how our system is “supposed” to work. It seems from what you are saying it must be similar if that is the level of hospitality workers you are attracting there.

Quick side note: I remember as a child in the 70’s being in my fathers restaurant and there was an accident in the kitchen with a cook cutting himself badly. At the time there was a large influx of Vietnamese workers, which my father hired several of, as busboys and one was a waiter. I remember standing there as the cook cut himself and I was looking for my father, when suddenly a bus boy grabbed the cooks hand and did something to aid him. Curious as to why the busboy reacted as quickly and decisively as he did I asked someone how he knew what to do, I mean after all he was just a busboy. The response I received was: “He was a doctor in Vietnam”. I never forgot that.


Minimum wage in the UK is £7.05 (aged 21 - 24) and £7.50 (25+). Restaurant service is by no means always a minimum wage job. Certainly in the cities, you are likely to see higher hourly rates and a goodly number of jobs are generally paid with an annual salary, rather than straight hourly rates.

As you’ll know, tipping is not so common in the UK and other European countries as it is in America, so there will not be great “hidden” boosts to an employee’s income. In common with employees in other industries, restaurant staff are entitled to paid holidays, national insurance cntributions for healthcare and retirement.

And, yes, if other Europeans are no longer able to work in the UK, then employers will have to increase wages to attract British staff. But, with the high level of employment, they can only come from other sectors.

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It’s a tight market here in Seattle. Seems all my chef friends are constantly looking for help. One chef had guys quit by text or no-show at least three weekends in a row. To hungover to go cook brunch? F it, you can find another $15/hr line cook job as soon as you want it.

Similarly, the US has seen fewer net people coming in from Mexico & Central America. Maybe all the factories that moved to Mexico offer decent enough jobs to stay?

@NotJrvedivici is right. If you can find someone to wash dishes for $10/hr that’s not drunk, flaky, or stealing, you don’t ask too many questions.

We’ve also been in a construction boom for a while. Construction pays way better, so that’s siphoning off a lot of manual labor - the dishwashers & prep cooks.

It seems there are a ton of restaurants opening, but also a lot of closings and re-workings. Some directly because of labor. If you can’t find enough cooks with the right skills to fill all your shifts, what do you do? The Thai place closes for lunch and the tequila bar drops the taco menu.

The healthcare world’s loss was your father’s gain. Odds are the busboy’s family prospered as time passed and their perseverance met a wider world of opportunities.


But it’s actually worse than that.

When I was in High School I used to work on a farm.

All those jobs are gone for legal residents, because the illegals are too afraid to report workplace safety and health violations.

Farms and kitchens are relatively dangerous places to work. And employers like having employees that won’t file complaints.


Unemployment is low, under 5%. Last low unemployment period was during the dot com bubble. During low unemployment periods, food service workers are able to move into higher paying jobs.

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Not sure if this will work, but here’s a little (literal) snapshot from social media yesterday- chatter amongst Seattle chefs. Everyone is hiring!

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A local Mickie D has a large hiring poster and highlights that they are paying $13/ hour. The local minimum wage is $12. So I assume they have issues staffing at $12.

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“And, yes, if other Europeans are no longer able to work in the UK”

Shouldn’t be much of a problem, John. Many, many non EU individuals are working in the UK. I’m dealing with a Russian estate agent in Exeter on a flat rental for my student son, our office cleaners are Colombian, and, according to one of my Singaporean colleagues, the staff at the lunchtime takeaway place nearby are all Korean. Our Spanish, Polish, French etc. friends will still be able to work here on the same basis as these Russian, Colombian and Korean people.

Restaurants everywhere are noticeably flexible in their employment arrangements.

An awful lot of restaurants are still family run or closely held businesses, consisting of perhaps a chef and “backer” or two. (You see this on Ramsey’s shows all the time). As a result, they do not have a large labor relations dept.

For the most part they are also pretty poorly run businesses. Lots of spoilage, employee theft, harassment (sexual or otherwise, imagine working for Ramsey) and shoddy bookkeeping practices. A good way to turn a large fortune into a small one is to open your own restaurant.

Despite electronic payments, there is also a surprising amount of cash still floating around the restaurant business. (There is a fair amount of money laundering going on as well).

For anyone who has ever worked in a kitchen papers and permits, unless it’s a health permit, are usually not a problem. If someone really wants to work in a restaurant, things get sorted regardless of where you come from.

Most people whose only contact with a restaurant is eating in one just have no clue how their sausage gets made.

For a time in NYC in the 1980’s most of the waiters and line cooks were Irish illegals.

They came on a three month tourist visa, got jobs, and stayed.

Hard to make a living even at that level with Bay Area rents.

Another fallacy in my opinion, Mickie D’s entry level positions are not intended to be a career nor to provide a “living wage”. If you get a job at Mickie D’s and work your way up to in store management, or you take your experience and move on and upward in your desired career. I’m not of the opinion that every entry level job is supposed to be a “living wage” job.


I won’t debate you there, but how many actually go into management?

And at that level I still don’t see how people pay the rent in places like SF where the average rent on a two bedroom is $ 4800 a month:

If you have a roommate, that’s $ 2400 a month in rent. At $ 13 an hour McDs workers are grossing $ 2080 before FICA and taxes, so maybe take home of $ 1500 a month.

At those prices you have to view this as a loss leader to get the management position.

The real money in fast food is owning a store, but then you know that.

I don’t know, but it would be an interesting statistic to see where in store management is acquired. If I had to guess I would say perhaps 50% of in-store management is home grown. I would say getting out of the store into regional might be a larger step to take than rising to in-store management.

As for rank and file employees the ideal mix of workers would be entry level work force (teenagers), part time supplemental workers (adults supplementing their other full time employment) and retirees (supplementing retirement income).

My understanding is that store manager positions are almost 100% internal at McDonalds. Staffing decisions are usually made by the franchisee, and then training is done by McDonalds. However, a lot of store owners start out as line managers, and then get offered financing if they want to buy a store. McDonalds is particularly good at helping minorities who want to own stores. There are also a lot of owners with multiple stores, kind of like car dealers.

Mid level positions at corporate are usually filled by recent grads of HRI programs at places like Michigan State, Washington State & Cornell. If you make 10-15 years with the company and then get passed over for promotion they usually set you up with a store.

BTW the dirty little secret with a McDonalds store is that corporate usually owns the real estate or holds the lease for the location. That gives them a big stick to hold over franchisees. It’s part of the system.

FWIW, according to McD’s UK website, some 70% of outlets are franchises. 90% of restaurant managers started out as crew, as did 25% of franchie holders.

By the by, last week saw staff at two branches take strike action over wages and “zero hours” contracts. Good for them!


Yep. That sounds about right.

FWIFW, the speedee system runs more like a cult than a business.

Individuality is frankly discouraged.

But then a lot of the franchise owners have really big boats and extensive car collections.

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Fish market.
Credit: Ramesh SA, Flickr