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Workforce shift taking a bite out of local Idaho restaurants

The rate of people leaving restaurant jobs in the U.S. is more than double the average for other industries.

BOISE, Idaho — Go out for a meal in the Treasure Valley, and there's a good chance you'll see some kind of notice about staffing issues or challenges, accompanied by a plea for patience.

Idaho restaurants are struggling to keep enough workers on staff; it's affecting their bottom line and, if you dine out, it's likely affecting how much you pay for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

The rate of people quitting their restaurant jobs in the U.S. was at 5.7-percent in September, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That was the highest of any industry and more than double the average for all other industries. It translates to more than 700,000 people quitting their restaurant jobs in September. Where are all these people going?

Boomer Godsill, president of Godsill Company, runs several local restaurants, including the Sunrise Cafe. He said it feels like those folks are leaving for opportunities in other industries that are going through their own worker shortages and offering higher wages, better benefits, or just more fulfilling work.

Godsill also said this shortage is tougher on local restaurants than on national chains, which is why some local places are cutting hours, services, or just shutting down. Also, he said, the national chains can handle this unprecedented turnover better because they have much more buying power and better training programs. That means they can pay more, and that has the mom-and-pop shops trying to play catch-up.

"Now that McDonald's and those guys are paying $15 to $16 an hour, places like us, sit down restaurants, the small mom-and-pops, we have to go compete with that, which we never had before," Godsill said. "As far as the $15 to $16 an hour for dishwashers, and prep cooks, and cooks, and it all kind of progresses higher as you go up. It's forcing us to pay the wage to get the workers because we need them, but then also to raise our prices at the same time."

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the average wage in the U.S. for restaurant workers has gone up almost $7 per hour in the past decade. Godsill said that's a tough thing to manage, because if they're bumping up wages, they're going to bump up menu prices to cover that.

"For us to give wage increases, usually corresponds to a menu increase, which goes to the customer. And so, if we're kind of going across the board at a location and raising everybody 50 cents to $1, we're raising our menu prices, basically across the board, about 10 to 15% to be able to cover that wage increase."

Godsill adds that there's a point where if a business raises prices enough, people stop coming in, and you have to close down. None of his places are doing that right now, but other local restaurants have.

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