Restaurant meals don't taste as good due to the labor shortage

Restaurant meals don't taste as good due to the labor shortage
The quality of restaurant meals and service has gotten worse during the pandemic.Morsa Images/Getty Images
  • The quality of restaurant meals and service has gotten worse during the pandemic.
  • This is partly down to a lack of kitchen and waitstaff and supply-chain disruptions.

Restaurant meals just don't taste as good anymore — and a good chunk of this is down to the labor shortage.

Restaurants have been hit hard by the pandemic. Not only have they had to navigate waves of lockdowns, bans on indoor dining, and the policing of mask and vaccine mandates, but they've also suffered from huge supply disruptions and a lack of staff.

Record numbers of Americans quit their jobs in 2021, and the restaurant industry was among the worst affected as low wages, a lack of benefits, the risk of catching COVID-19, and increasing rude customers drove workers from their jobs. And this isn't like to recover anytime soon, the National Restaurant Association said Tuesday.

Difficulty finding waitstaff and cooks isn't the only impact that the labor shortage is having on restaurants, though. Staffing problems across manufacturers and distributors means that some deliveries are arriving late and some products are harder to come by, too. Ninety-six per cent of restaurants operators experienced supply delays or shortages of key ingredients in 2021, the National Restaurant Association said.

And then there's the soaring inflation, which is pushing up the cost of ingredients.


These disruptions are forcing restaurants to change how they operate. Some have cut their opening hours, closed their dining rooms, and simplified or chopped their menus. Many have raised prices, too.

Diners are noticing this. In a survey by data-provider Premise, reported on by The Washington Times, 61% of American diners said they'd seen a drop in the quality of service at restaurants since the start of the pandemic. Three-quarters said they'd noticed restaurants weren't open as long, and 60% said they'd seen fewer choices on menus.

And 46% said that these changes had made them enjoy dining out less.

These disruptions are causing the quality of restaurant food to decline. A restaurant owner in Maine, for example, previously told Insider that the supply-chain chaos meant some of her ingredients orders, such as salad dressing, were being substituted for lower-quality items.

In addition, restaurants are offering less choice to diners as they can't get the right ingredients or they're no longer as profitable. An exodus of chefs and cooks from some restaurants means they're operating with fewer kitchen staff than usual and food quality is dropping as they train new hires up.


The quality of restaurant service has fallen, too. Signs warning of understaffing and slow service and urging diners to be nice to their servers have popped up in restaurant windows over the past year, and diners on review sites like TripAdvisor have complained about long waits.

Some understaffed restaurants have even stopped takeout and delivery to bolster up service for dine-in customers. Colleen Kelley, co-owner of Kelly's Gingernut Pub in Cape Charles, Virginia, told Insider that the pub had chosen to prioritize dine-in customers to ensure service was quick and food was high quality.

But sometimes orders were still slower than usual, and diners wouldn't always be patient, Kelley said. "They get mad, and then you get a bad review."

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