Dane County restaurants lost 44% of their workforce during the pandemic

These Are The Industries Where Jobs Still Haven’t Returned

--- 2019 employment: 3,780

- Median annual income: $26,870

- Total employment: 2,587,070

A short-order cook prepares easy-to-make food in coffee shops or restaurants that emphasize fast service and convenient options. For years, this portion of the food industry has relied on undocumented immigrants, but when the pandemic hit these employees were often among the first to get laid off. Today, restaurants are having a hard time finding workers to fill these spots, as citizens aren’t excited about the low pay and undocumented immigrants are now more cautious because of the way the last year has unfolded.

MADISON, Wis.– If you’ve gone out to eat lately, you’ve probably noticed some changes: shorter hours, smaller menus, and higher prices. But there’s another concerning trend happening nationwide that’s even more pronounced in Dane County.

Local restaurants lost 44% of their workforce during the pandemic, according to new numbers from Wisconsin Restaurant Association President Kristine Hillmer.

“Statewide, we lost 22% of our workforce,” she said, in an interview with News 3.

Hillmer connects Dane County’s higher rate to at least one factor: strict COVID restrictions, that left many local businesses operating at 25% capacity for several months, although there isn’t enough data to know for sure.

“A few people have come back, but there are still a lot of jobs that are unfilled,” Hillmer added.

Data from the National Restaurant Association shows hiring is a problem nationwide. Cooks, line cooks, managers, and bartenders are the hardest positions to fill as workers leave the industry, looking for higher pay, a more reliable schedule, and consistent income.

In Madison, Food Fight restaurant group managing partner Jordan Bright says his group’s main problem is a little different.

“We found our problem is more geographical,” he said. “If you are centrally located on bus lines, downtown, or near campus, you seem to be doing fine.”

Bright said Food Fight managers made their biggest cuts last year, and all 19 restaurants are now expanding their menus and hours slowly and selectively.

However, many small, independently-owned restaurants continue to make cuts.

There are several ways Hillmer says you can help:

  • Order carryout and cocktails to-go
  • Visit during off-hours (think 4 p.m. instead of 6 p.m.)
  • Be patient and tip well (staff shortages aren’t your server’s fault)