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Light At The End of The Tunnel: Young Restaurant Workers and COVID / By: Ben Crotty


Young restaurant (under age 25) employees are in crisis as restaurants have closed across the country. However, there is a positive future ahead.

According to Pew Research, food services employees pre-pandemic only made an average of $394 per week which is $581 less than the overall average weekly income across all industries. In other words, food industry workers were already proportionally negatively affected pre-pandemic compared to other industries. Additionally, nearly half of all young workers are employed in the service industry and since the pandemic, there has been a 17% decrease in restaurant jobs totaling over 79,000 restaurant jobs lost in Illinois alone (Chicago Tribune, 2020). Thus young restaurant employees are even more affected by the pandemic compared to other age demographics and other industries. Since many families rely on income from younger workers whose income is already comparatively low, the impacts of their loss of employment could be devastating.

Across Chicago and the nation, many restaurants were forced to close their doors for good, but many more have been able to reopen in some capacity. Reclaimed, a Chicago-based restaurant, was able to rehire their entire staff by May and began to hire additional staff by pivoting its business model. They created a new menu and expanded carryout. Craig Bell, the restaurant's owner stated, “We look to the individual who’s going to benefit our business in the best way possible...someone with experience but also attitude.” Many restaurants adopt a similar philosophy. A high school employee at another restaurant, Omar Chavez, states, “I get the same benefits as my older coworkers and my company is doing all they can.”

Young restaurant employees should know that despite what statistics show, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The majority of restaurants have hired back their staff in full and many are hiring additional staff. While additional lockdowns cast uncertainty on the future of the industry, it’s clear that restaurants have learned valuable lessons from the past lockdowns and will continue to adapt to meet the needs of both their customers and employees.


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