Every autumn, retailers hire large numbers of seasonal workers to handle the rush of holiday business. Then, after the new year kicks in, many of those temps typically rejoin the ranks of low-skilled job seekers, eager for work and often willing to accept meager pay. That cycle has long been good for the restaurant industry, with food preparation workers and servers receiving mean annual wages that were half those of the U.S. average, according to May 2017 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
It may not work out that way in 2019. Fewer teens are in the workforce nowadays, reducing the number of job seekers for low-wage work and helping raise the pay rates needed to woo those who are. Also, minimum wage increases for lower-skilled workers at companies such as Amazon.com, Walmart, and Target are making it more difficult for restaurants to compete for talent, forcing them to try everything from social media campaigns to quarterly bonuses to entice applicants. “The last 18 to 24 months, it’s been very competitive, no matter what time of year,” says Bjorn Erland, vice president for people and experience at Yum! Brands Inc.’s Taco Bell chain. “I don’t think it’s going to ease up much just because the holidays are over.”