Taco Bell boosts benefits as labor shortage hampers rebound efforts

Fast-food chains like Taco Bell are rolling out the red carpet for new hires in hopes of staffing up amid a labor shortage that threatens the industry’s recovery efforts.

Yum Brands-owned Taco Bell, known for its Mexican-inspired menu, announced plans Tuesday to hire 5,000 employees on April 21 at some 2,000 Taco Bells across the country.

And it said it will be boosting benefits for its managers amid a labor shortage that has plagued the sector despite sky-high unemployment rates.

General managers at the chain’s company-owned eateries will now get four weeks of annual vacation, eight weeks of paid maternity leave and four weeks of new parent and guardian “baby bonding,” the company said.

“It is no secret that the labor market is tight,” said Kelly McCulloch, Taco Bell’s chief people officer, in announcing the new perks.

Taco Bell’s planned hiring spree comes as the restaurant industry suffers a bizarre labor shortage that only worsened last year as many services workers chose to collect unemployment rather than risk bringing the deadly coronavirus home to their families.

“In Ohio you can make $452 a week in unemployment,” Carl Howard, chief executive of the 200-unit Fazoli’s chain told Restaurant Business. “The federal government is going to top that with $300. That’s $752. If I pay $15 an hour, that’s $600. They’re making $18.55 to stay home.  “I’ve got to pay $18.55 if I’m going to attract workers. That doesn’t work in our model or anyone else’s model.”

Taco Bell, which plans to hold its interviews in Taco Bell parking lots so candidates can apply from the safety of their owns cars, isn’t alone in sweetening pay as it seeks to ramp up operations.

Olive Garden restaurant
Darden, which owns Olive Garden and Yard House, said on March 25 that it’s raising its minimum starting wage to $10 an hour starting immediately.
LightRocket via Getty Images

Darden, which owns Olive Garden and Yard House, said on March 25 that it’s raising its minimum starting wage to $10 an hour starting immediately. The wage will be boosted further to $11 per hour in January 2022 and to $12 in January 2023.

Starbucks in December boosted its pay by 10 percent and said it will increase hourly wages to $15 an hour over the next two to three years.

Although more people are now somewhat protected from the deadly coronavirus thanks to vaccinations, the supply of waiters, cooks, bartenders and hostesses still hasn’t caught up with demand, partly because so many more jobs have opened up as the weather warms and more states loosen their indoor dining restrictions.

“Finding enough people to work is easily the No. 1 concern for restaurant operators today,” restaurant analyst Mark Kalinlowski told The Post. “I’ve heard of restaurants not being able to open for a day because they don’t have enough workers or restaurants that cut their hours of operation because they don’t have enough staff throughout the day — and these are all large chains.”

In March, the US restaurant industry was still short about 1.2 million employees compared to the same month in 2020, according to US Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Restaurant jobs have historically provided a much-needed lifeline for unemployed workers during economic downturns. But this time is different, thanks to a combination of the coronavirus and boosted unemployment benefits, experts said.

“During other economic downturns restaurants have generally benefitted, finding workers who’d been laid off in other industries,” Aaron Allan & Associates analyst, RJ Hottovy told The Post. “But the opposite situation is happening now with the restaurants being the employers unable to find workers.”