A recent job fair at Henan University of Economics and Law sparked a heated discussion after several catering companies recruited dishwashers for a minimum monthly wage of just 2,000 yuan ($290) at the event. The university claimed that the job fair was not exclusively for students, it only provided the venue, and non-students were welcome to attend. Nonetheless, the incident has brought wider public attention to the severe shortage of staff in the restaurant industry, which has become more prominent since China downgraded its COVID-19 management measures from class A to class B on Jan 8.
The labor shortage is a significant challenge for the catering industry in China. Zhou Jiawang, who runs a hotpot restaurant in Nanjing, capital city of East China’s Jiangsu province, told China Food Newspaper that six servers resigned on the last day of the Chinese New Year holiday in January. He started recruiting staff at a job fair on the same day, but was only able to hire one server and one dishwasher. A manager at a popular restaurant in Guangzhou, capital city of South China’s Guangdong province, said to China Food Newspaper: “Normally, we pay an hourly rate of 17 yuan for part-time workers. Although we increased the offer to 30 yuan and offered additional benefits during the Chinese New Year holiday, we received very few queries after advertising the vacancies on various platforms for over a month.”
According to figures from recruitment portal Zhaopin, as cited by Hangzhou Daily, the number of job vacancies in hotels and food and beverage businesses posted during the first week after the Chinese New Year holiday increased by 40 percent compared with the same period of 2022, ranking first among all industries.
The labor shortage is caused by several factors, such as long working hours, limited room for advancement, and low salaries, which lead many workers to choose more flexible jobs such as food delivery drivers or ride-hailing drivers. Catering companies are exploring new approaches to address this labor shortage, such as increasing the number of flexible workers, promoting digitization and automation to reduce reliance on human labor, and introducing employee incentive mechanisms to give front-line staff greater opportunities to advance their careers.
To tackle the shortage, retaining current employees is crucial. Fan Ning, an expert with canyin88.com, suggests that catering companies should be willing to spend money to retain people. For example, they can increase the proportion of seniority-based wages in the “basic salary plus attendance award” wage system. The labor shortage is a significant challenge for the catering industry in China, and it will take a collective effort from both employers and employees to find sustainable solutions.