'An employment pandemic': Food service industry struggles to rebuild after 19% employment drop

Posted at 5:18 PM, Apr 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-28 19:43:58-04

The culinary industry was adversely affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Between November 2019 and November 2020, employment dropped by 19%.

In January 2020, 16.2 million people were employed in the restaurant and hospitality industry. By March 2020, employment fell to 8.5 million.

"What I looked toward was keep your eyes open for ways the industry is going to shift to adapt to this," said David King, a culinary student at Texas State Technical College.

King wasn't too worried about the decrease as he knew in his future profession, restaurateurs adapt.

"The culinary industry, as an entire industry, that's what we do is we stay flexible," he continued.

At TSTC, professors work with students to give them real-life opportunities in the classroom. That way when they graduate, they have the experience needed for a career.

Culinary Department Lead Chef Michele Brown says she's heard firsthand the benefits TSTC gives to its students.

"Every city I go to, every restaurant I visit, owners, operators are always asking for trained culinary staff," Chef Brown said.

As restaurants open to 100% capacity, they're faced with a challenge they didn't think would happen, and that's hiring. Kyle Citrano, president of the Waco Restaurant Association and George's managing partner, says there's a new pandemic in the restaurant business.

"It's almost like you got out of one pandemic and you're dealing with an employment pandemic," Citrano said.

Restaurants are hiring, but no one is applying. Citrano says between competitive pay, unemployment benefits and still a small fear of going out, finding employees is hard.

"Hopefully things will get better once the summer comes, kids are out of school. We weren't expecting to see the drought in employment like we saw," Citrano said.

Chef Brown has noticed the opposite, however, for her students that graduate from TSTC.

"There are I would say five to 10 jobs per graduate. Now they may not all be the specific job the student is looking to work into, but they're out there," Chef Brown said.

Seeing opportunities like this excites King for when he graduates.

"It's hard to guess what might come next because there's so many great creative minds that will come completely out of left field," King said.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects more than 265,000,000 restaurant and drink service employees will be needed by 2028. In Texas, more than 247,000 chefs and head cooks will be needed.

The food and beverage serving industry is projected to grow 10% over the next decade.