Restaurant operators see gig work as labor solution, NRA says

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While employment is likely to grow, finding staff is still a significant challenge for many operators, with 45% of surveyed restaurateurs reporting inadequate staffing to meet extant consumer demand.

restaurant worker PPE
dapiki moto. (2020). “New Normal” [Photograph]. Retrieved from Unsplash.

Dive Brief:

  • The restaurant industry is projected to grow employment by about 1.1 million positions between the end of 2023 and 2032, according to projections developed by the National Restaurant Association and based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
  • While employment is likely to grow, finding staff is still a significant challenge for many operators, with 45% of surveyed restaurateurs reporting inadequate staffing to meet extant consumer demand, the association said in its State of the Restaurant Industry 2024 report released Tuesday.  
  • About a quarter of surveyed operators reported that they would consider using “gig workers,” or independent contractors supplied by a third-party service, to supplement existing staff.

Dive Insight:

Hudson Riehle, SVP of of the NRA’s research and knowledge group, said the use of such workers in restaurants was in its earliest stages. But with nine in 10 operators citing recruitment and retention as a major challenge, according to the report, gig work in the industry may grow in coming years. 

“It definitely is embryonic at the moment,” Riehle said in an interview with Restaurant Dive. Riehle cited the industry’s reputation for flexibility in hours and employment as one of the conditions that could enable the growth of gig economy work in foodservice. Technology, Riehle said, has made it possible for apps or services like Qwick or Gigpro, to offer workers to restaurants on a temporary basis.

“The majority of restaurant industry workers are part-time workers to begin with,” Riehle said. “So it’s entirely natural that the infrastructure to support not only that [gig] recruitment, but retention is developing and will continue to develop.”

Proponents of gig work, like DoorDash, have tended to highlight “flexibility” as a justification for classifying workers as independent contractors, arguing that classification allows for irregular shifts initiated at-will by workers. That classification excludes workers from many of the benefits and stability associated with employment, according to the Department of Labor.

While selectively beneficial for employers, that exclusion has led to significant political conflict between gig platforms, organized labor, state regulators and self-organized groups of workers. The long-running battle over California’s gig worker classification laws — which saw a strong standard passed by the state before being overturned by a referendum and is now mired in legal conflict — is one example. New York City’s ongoing fight over a minimum pay rate for gig workers in food delivery, which began with significant worker self-organizing in 2021, is another.

Hiring independent contractors through a third-party service to undertake the same labor as regular staff may draw regulatory scrutiny. The Department of Labor will implement a rule in March that would make it harder to classify workers as independent contractors. Businesses that exercise considerable control, surveil or discipline workers, set prices for labor or use workers in roles that are core to the business, or uses that do not require specialized skills and initiative work workers, may run afoul of the rule by classifiying those workers as independent contractors, according to a Federal Register discussion of the rule and its rationale.

Outside of gig work, the NRA report found many restaurants, about 47%, think the use of technology in their segment will become more common, but more than two-thirds, 69%, see the use of technology as a method to augment or increase the productivity of workers rather than an avenue toward reducing staffing.

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