Labor Shortage? Have You Tried Paying More?


The Washington Post informs us today of yet another looming labor shortage:

There’s a growing problem that chefs and restaurateurs are talking about more these days.

Good cooks are getting harder to come by. Not the head kitchen honchos, depicted in Food Network reality shows, who fine-tune menus, and orchestrate the dinner rush, but the men and women who are fresh out of culinary school and eager to earn their chops. The shortage of able kitchen hands is affecting chefs in Chicago….It’s an issue in New York as well….And it extends to restaurants out West, where a similar pinch is being felt. Seattle is coping with the same dilemma. San Francisco, too.

….One of the clearest obstacles to hiring a good cook, let alone someone willing to work the kitchen these days, is that living in this country’s biggest cities is increasingly unaffordable. In New York, for instance, where an average cook can expect to make somewhere between $10 and $12 per hour….

Let’s just stop right there. We’ve seen this movie before. What’s really happening, apparently, is that there’s a shortage of skilled people willing to work lousy hours and face long commutes in return for $10 to $12 per hour.

Offer them, say, $15 per hour, and who knows? Maybe there are plenty of good entry-level cooks available. This would raise your total cost of running the restaurant by, oh, 2 percent or so,1 but it’s not like restaurants are competing with China. They’re competing with other restaurants nearby that have the same problem. If the price of a good cook is going up, it’s going to affect everyone.

I tire of reading stories like this. Tell me what happens when employers offer more money. If they still can’t find qualified workers, then maybe there’s a real problem. If they haven’t even tried it, then maybe the problem isn’t quite as dire as they’re making it out to be.

1Back-of-envelope guess based on kitchen labor cost of 15 percent and entry-level cooks making up maybe a third of that. If 5 percent of your cost base gets a 30-40 percent raise, that’s about a 2 percent total increase.

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