I long for the days pre-COVID-19 when my job was fun and focused on creativity and servant leadership.
Days when we had ample workers and the kitchens at Taylor were bursting with laughter and the cooks all wanted to be chefs. Days when we sat down for family meals after a hard day of work and shared our personal lives with our work family.
COVID not only squeezed most of the enjoyment out of our work, but I believe that masks and social distancing caused irrevocable damage to the psyche of the workers who before the pandemic felt that working at Taylor was about family, friends, growth and, for many, about honoring their creation.
The hospitality industry has always been about servanthood. The heroes of this industry, the most important cogs in the wheel, are the cooks, dishwashers, front-line workers and cashiers. These positions are vital to the success of any food-service operation. If you have traveled or dined out in the past six months, it is obvious that the labor shortage isn’t only affecting us here on campus. Restaurants shortening their hours, hand-written signs apologizing for closures, long wait times and slower deliveries are just a few of the things you are seeing.
According to a recent survey from Joblist of over 13,000 unemployed hospitality workers, more than half of those workers won’t return to their old jobs, and over a third aren’t even considering returning to the hospitality industry. According to the poll, no pay increase or incentive would make these workers return to the industry.
I believe that a large part of the problem is that this industry has historically been low-paying, extremely physically demanding and employees have felt underappreciated by their leaders and consumers. I believe this is a turning point and an awakening by the world that these workers are critically important and should be treated, valued and compensated to match the importance and demand for their skills.
I have worked in this industry for 31 years, five of those here at Taylor. I love the work I do, the community I serve and the employees I interact with daily. As a young chef, servanthood was driven into me by my mentors, but the question of “Am I being appropriately valued?” never came up.
We did it for the love of the work, for the thrill of creativity and for the excitement and joy we brought to our guests. The job market just isn’t the same as it was when I was coming up in the industry. Young adults can choose many different forms of “making a living” and hospitality just seems like harder work for less reward to many.
The pandemic also halted our mentorship of excellence in culinary and customer service and refocused us on just making ends meet. This has gone on for over two years now, and the impact of that lack of training and mentorship has created skill gaps in our dwindling workforce that continue to plague our ability to offer the services we have always promised our guests and clients.
I had a conversation with one of my peers recently about generational changes that have also impacted the industry. Instant gratification is at the core of what we do now. Our guests want their food and service fast, their way and cheap. Grubhub, Amazon, Instagram, TikTok and more allow our consumers instant access without leaving a chair.
The entire service experience has changed. The joy in the work suffers when the focus is no longer on innovation, guest excitement and quality over quantity. Is 10 minutes in line too long to wait for someone to lovingly prepare a meal? What should the new standards be?
How do we set this all right? What changes can we make? What can we do as consumers and leaders to support and empower the hospitality industry? These are tough questions to answer but they are vitally important to those of us who love dining out, going on vacation, experiencing innovation and variety in our dining halls, and for those of us whose passion it is to strive for excellence in the hospitality industry.
Despite all of these challenges, this is an industry that I love and I am proud to have dedicated my life to. We can impact positive change by understanding the opportunities and potential new paths for advancement. I love teaching and influencing people around food. There is still so much excitement and potential to be found in the food-service industry.
A few additional staff members and students in our operations can make a huge difference in the food and service we are able to provide. If you have ever thought, “It would be cool to be a chef,” or “I’m a foodie” or “I could use some extra spending money,” we would love to have you join our team and, who knows, you might be the next big industry influencer.
We need young minds with new ideas and a good understanding of the current trends around us to challenge us to be better.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this important subject and how you feel the mission of Taylor University can help to correct or shed understanding on this ongoing problem.