"Editor's Note: This story is the second in Kevin Alexander's alarmingly obsessive three-part investigation into the state and meaning of American food and drink in the year 2016.
You can read part one at link.
There is a crisis in the kitchen of America’s restaurants.
It is going to get worse before it gets... well, it may not actually get better.
For the past year, I’ve been traveling around the country eating and talking, and in every city I’ve been to, the chefs gripe about the same thing: It is impossible to find cooks anymore.
You see it everywhere.
Almost every local paper has a story that kicks off with a lede featuring a chef begging anyone who can hold a pan and pick a paring knife out of a lineup to come work for him or her.
....this shortage has the potential to fundamentally change restaurants in America -- from the way we eat out and what we pay to eat out, to what we pay the people who cook what we eat out, and how they’re treated in the kitchens.
There is good and middling and bad that could come of this, I’ve found through dozens of conversations.
- The good: Restaurant workers, long worked and whipped like redheaded mules, may suddenly find themselves treated like actual human people with feelings and souls and college debt.
- The middling: You might have to pay a little more for your burger to fund this humane treatment.
- The bad: The whole industry might collapse in a huge column of bacon-infused smoke and all your date nights henceforth will center around when to take your Trader Joe’s wood-fired Naples-style uncured pepperoni pizza out of your parents’ oven.
...And yes, more of those people are coming out of culinary school, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy to get.
Just as many Generation X-ers went to law school with no real plan to practice law, culinary school grads are no longer locked into a restaurant kitchen role.
Corporate gigs at tech companies, airlines, upscale nursing homes and grocery markets, the Food Network, hotel and casino groups, and catering can all tempt them away with better hours, better treatment, and better money.
Even the National Restaurant Association’s 2016 Restaurant Industry Forecast ominously states that the “labor pool is getting shallower” and “recruitment and retention of employees will re-emerge as a top challenge.”
Now I’m not a licensed economist (yet), but I’m pretty sure when the number of jobs available in an industry go up, usually the pay and benefits in those arenas do as well, as more companies compete for fewer candidates.
But here’s one of the main reasons the restaurant industry makes about as much sense as the plot-line of a Harmony Korine movie: Restaurants don’t make any money.
Pretty much ever.