French restaurants, brasseries, and bistrots are facing an unprecedented lack of waiting staff, forcing managers to look to alternative recruitment solutions as demand far exceeds supply.
The shortage hit as the industry slowly reopened activity after the forced closures of the Covid lockdowns when waiter wages were maintained by government loans.
The Covid restrictions themselves largely contributed to today’s shortages as thousands of workers considered alternative job opportunities and changed careers to escape an industry known for its poor wages and unsociable hours.
In their desperation to recruit, some restaurant managers are now accepting waiting staff without asking for CVs or cover letters, having been unable to find suitable candidates through traditional recruitment channels.
They are also offering students employment with training as an introduction to the industry.
“I have never seen a phenomenon on this scale,” said Sébastien Burdino, owner of the Brasserie Bofinger in eastern Paris, who is looking to fill four to five positions by September ahead of the busier winter season.
Mr Burdino said he has not been forwarded any CVs, nor has he seen offers through DigitalRecruiters, the industry’s go-to recruitment website. He added that he has started depending on referrals and recommendations from friends and acquaintances as an alternative.
Mr Burdino’s difficulties appear to be echoed across France; an RTL journalist has reported that he was offered 25 jobs in less than four hours in Deauville (Calvados), when he pretended to be a student and went looking for work, without any evidence of his experience or skills.
“We are experiencing a bit more trouble than usual in recruiting,” said Eric Entzmann, spokesman for the Bistrot de la Montagne in Paris.
He added that the establishment has found staff more easily than its competitors because it relies on a pool of different working contracts within the events catering industry.
237,000 fewer jobs in a year
The shortage of waiting staff has been described as “unprecedented” by François Lenglet, a popular French economic journalist, in an op-ed article for RTL, where he explained that the turmoil within the industry was caused by the “scissor effect.”
The “scissor effect” occurs when jobs are created – as has been the case after the disruption of the Covid lockdowns – but the active population remains the same, as it has since around 2017.
Mr Lenglet added that the vacancies are not being filled by jobseekers because 80% of them are in urban areas where people are already employed. There are also issues relating to training: unemployed plumbers or administrators, for example, are likely to be searching for a job in their own field.
The worker shortage has been covered widely in the French media over the last 18 months, with industry professionals blaming the low wages – averaging €1,820 gross – lack of bonuses and regular weekend shifts for the problem.
Mrs Burdino and Mr Entzmann attributed their difficulties to the lockdown periods, which, they believe, triggered a desire for change within staff.
This desire was also bolstered by President Macron’s choice to guarantee 84% of wages within the industry during the lockdowns, a policy which provided a financial cushion and allowed time to look for alternative jobs, said Mr Burdino.
The restaurant industry lost 237,000 jobs between February 2020 and February 2021, according to figures provided by the direction de l'Animation de la recherche, des Études et des Statistiques (Dares), an administrative body of the ministry of labour.
Mr Burdino said he will look to offer on-the-job training to students in a bid to attract them to the role.