Today is National Food Service Employee Day. Here in West Asheville, we recognize that food service is an essential cornerstone of our tourist-based economy. Yet, like any other city, we struggle with equitable pay and affordable living for our food service workers. Below we have outlined some things we can do as a community to change how we hire and work with food service employees.
The State of Food Service in West Asheville
The pandemic threw a big wrench in the otherwise active food and beverage scene in Asheville. While many local restaurants were fortunate enough to stay open, even in limited capacities, many industry workers dealt with inconsistent schedules, low client turnout, and high exposure to COVID-19. In many ways, our community hasn’t fully recovered from that.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in June the hospitality industry had nearly 1.3 million job openings. In a city that relies on food and beverage service employees to sustain our booming tourist economy, that number affects area many businesses and workers.
Challenges in Staffing for Restaurants
The difficult last two years have led to turmoil in the restaurant industry. According to Business Insider, this shift is mainly due to increased abuse from restaurant patrons and consistently lower tips. Restaurant employees have also been asked to go above and beyond, often being the last line of communication on food shortages, mask policies, or even vaccine mandates.
Prolonged periods of unemployment and the ability to receive higher wages in other industries led to many employees leaving jobs in restaurants, and there haven’t been large numbers of incoming employees interested in replacing them. With high-stress levels in these roles, it’s no wonder staffing remains difficult.
Tips and Wages for Industry Employees
In North Carolina, restaurant employers are required to pay their service workers a mere $2.13 per hour. The implemented tip-based system intends for additional wages to be made up in tips provided by patrons, but that doesn’t always happen as expected.
Experts in the food service industry have voiced concerns about tip-based positions. Eater’s exposé demonstrates how tipping can be used to feed racism, sexism, harassment, and even exploitation. These issues were discussed long before COVID-19 created even more of a disparity in the hospitality industry.
How to Make a Positive Impact
While the average Asheville citizen can’t control the wages of restaurant employees in the area, there are some things we can all do to make a positive impact on these industry workers’ lives.
- Visit local restaurants that offer a living wage
- Be kind to restaurant workers
- Tip at least 20% (more if possible!) for good service
- Support organization among food and beverage workers
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