Sharon Sessions worked as a line cook for over a year at a Whataburger in Tallahassee, earning $9 per hour — an amount slightly over the state’s minimum wage of $8.65.
A single mother, she’s been working in the restaurant industry for more than 15 years, trying to make ends meet to take care of her two children.
But Sessions said she resigned from her job because the industry doesn’t pay livable wages.
“That was one of my biggest reasons. That was a big issue – the pay. Those checks are not high enough to survive,” Sessions told the Florida Phoenix. “You’re not respected enough in that industry and you don’t get the pay you deserve, that’s already stressful.”
Sessions is not alone. Restaurant workers have been fed up with low wages, resulting in a shortage of workers in that industry amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In fact, a survey from the National Restaurant Association in mid-May found that staffing levels at restaurants are below the industry standard, “with 84% of operators saying their current staffing level is lower than it was in the absence of Covid-19.”
Several restaurants and other businesses in Florida’s hospitality industry face an extreme shortage of workers and are eager to gain more employees, according to the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. FRLA is a nonprofit organization supporting workers in the hospitality industry.
The group had praised Gov. Ron DeSantis for withdrawing from the supplementary federal unemployment assistance program set to end on June 26, which offers jobless workers in Florida an additional $300 in weekly benefits.
Without that $300, they’ll have to rely on the state’s maximum weekly amount of $275 to pay for rent, food, and other expenses. Florida has the stingiest unemployment benefits in the nation, based on a combination of the number of weeks and the amount of the benefit.
Supporters of ending the federal aid supplement say it is an initiative to get people back to work, citing an increase in jobs available. Carol Dover, president and CEO of FRLA, said ending the supplemental federal aid “will help the industry (hospitality) regain pre-COVID levels.”
“Even though our industry is open for business, we are facing a dire labor shortage,” Dover said in a written statement.
“Strong demand, coupled with this staffing shortage, has left many businesses forced to limit operating days and hours in addition to reducing capacity in both food service and lodging. We encourage all Floridians to explore opportunities in Florida hospitality and envision a career with a future.”
But how would it be encouraging if restaurant workers can’t get better wages?
Rich Templin, legislative policy director with the AFL-CIO of Florida, agrees that many workers in the restaurant industry “earn poverty-level wages” with no benefits. “These are jobs for far too long that have not provided sick leave” and other benefits, he said.
Some unemployed workers never qualified for unemployment benefits, Templin said, so a $300 supplement was never part of the equation.
“For anyone thinking that that’s keeping people at home is preposterous,” Templin said.
Florida Democratic Party Executive Director Marcus Dixon said in a written statement:
“These expanded ($300) unemployment benefits have been a lifeline for so many. They are the difference between being able to put food on the table and not, being able to buy diapers and not. Weak leaders like Gov. DeSantis find pleasure in preying on the vulnerable. It’s despicable.”
Meanwhile, some companies in Florida struggling to find workers are offering bonus pay or raising hourly wages to address staffing shortages, in hopes of enticing potential candidates.
For instance, a restaurant in downtown Orlando is offering a variety of benefits, such as increasing hourly wages to at least $10 and paid vacation time in the summer, the Orlando Sentinel reported. Maxine’s on Shine also offered a day’s pay for workers to get COVID vaccines and “started a tip-sharing program so everyone makes $15,” according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Universal Orlando announced Thursday that it will increase the starting pay to $15 an hour – up from $13 an hour – on June 27, according to a press release from the company. More than 18,000 part-time and full-time employees at Universal Orlando will be granted a raise, including food service workers and jobs in other areas.
John Sprouls, executive vice president and chief administrative officer for Universal Parks & Resorts, said in a written statement:
“This is about taking care of both our current team members and those who will be joining our team. We know a great guest experience begins with our team members – and we will continue to provide the best work experience we can.”
Meanwhile, Sharon Sessions, who now lives in Daytona Beach, has had it with restaurant jobs ranging from cook and waitress to cashier.
“They don’t think we are worth the money,” Sessions said.
After feeling “physically and mentally exhausted” from a variety of jobs in the industry, she said, “I called it quits.”
She’s now concentrating on pursuing a degree in the health field to secure a job that would better provide for her family.
–Isaac Morgan, Florida Phoenix
There isn’t enough money in the world that would make me work in a restaurant. I don’t like people. I don’t like dealing with their BS. They are 99% wrong. They smell. They’re gross. They feel entitled. They tip like they raided a piggy bank. They’re rude. Sure, 1% is cool, but that’s a very small margin. Luckily, I’ve never worked a service job in my life, not even in HS, and I hope and pray to whatever entity is up there that I’ll never, ever have to either.
For those that choose to or have to: PAY THEM A LIVING FUKING WAGE! And then maybe you will find some people actually want to work there. Business with an average starting hourly wage of 17$ have more applicants than they can handle. Businesses still thinking 7.75$ cuts the mustard find desperate folks that will find something else better eventually or crickets. I’ll gladly pay more for everything if it means others are given a living wage.
They make less because they get tips. No waiters and waitresses make minimum wage. That’s the nature of the business nation wide. Im talking bars and restaurants, not fast food.
Well my daughter’s boyfriend works in a Flagler Beach restaurant and typically makes 200-400 a day in tips. One day last week he made 500 dollars. That is certainly a “livable wage.” Maybe there are too many people with your attitude working in these restaurants; that would explain the low wages for sure.
Then he is in the minority. You’re mistaken if you think that sort of tipping behavior is common at all restaurants and especially in and around Flagler County (or Florida) at large. I’m glad he’s able to earn a livable wage, but that is not even slightly the case for the people this article is addressing.
Thank you for bringing up ALL the workers in hospitality, not everyone is a waiter/waitress. How about the cleaning maids in motels/hotels (don’t even mention paltry tips), the laundry people, the cooks and assistant cooks, the dishwashers… If working 40 hours without ever taking a day off for vacation or sickness a hard worker on minimum wage woud earn the magnificient sum of $17,992 a year, good luck finding lodging for less than $12,000 a year and he/she can live like royalty on $ 5,992. Hopefully that person is not a single parent that was abandonned by a spouse and has one or more mouth(s) to feed on that resplendent salary. Let’s hope none of these essential workers ever get sick and miss work or would need to take care of a sick family member.
Let’s remember that Walmart and McDonald’s are among the top employers of beneficiaries of federal aid programs like Medicaid and food stamps.
Yes, so why should an employer pay its workers a livable wage when the feds are there to pick up the slack.
Weak leaders like Gov. DeSantis? He’s doing an amazing job! He has been, and continues to do so. The fact is this, the market will fix these problems. We don’t need govt trying to solve them. Restaurants will eventually pay more to acquire workers, prices will rise, and then of course people will complain again how they still don’t make enough. The best thing we can do to fix this is get out of the way, stop paying so much unemployment, and let the market sort itself out.
Let the market sort itself out? Fox guarding henhouse… just as when republicans got rid of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1998 which prevented banks & wall street from doing what they did leading to the great depression in 1929, which then lead to the great recession in 2008! Republicans in the Supreme Court decided to get rid of part of the Voting Rights Act, and now white supremist red states are hard at work destroying voting rights, complaining and seditiously terrorizing others when they don’t get elected. In certain states there are only 6 voting areas for millions of it’s citizens to vote at. Red makes it harder to vote – authoritative, nazi/communist/facist type ways are destroying our country, and destroying our Constitution. Do you like that you are now considered a criminal here in Florida for assembling more than 3 people in a group to protest peacefully? This is the crap Hitler did, Stalin did, Mussolini did, Castro did. Wake up. Stop electing corporatists into politics and allowing propagandists to brainwash you.
James M. Mejuto says
The restaurant industry has always been a source, a sector that depends on cheap labor. Restaurant owners
continue to make record profits off the backs of cheap labor . . . even as they yell-out poverty.
There is a definite need to IMMEDIATELY RAISE restaurant workers’ wages to $15 per hour with a COLA,
S.S. checkout and medical benefits. There is no understandable reason why waiters should not be in this mix.
It’s been too long, too many years, owners of restaurants retiring to a comfortable home, a pool, gardens and
comfortable lifestyle while their workers are just getting-by working for unliveable wages. Restaurants could not
exist, their owners’ lifestyle could not flourish but for the lowly worker who continues to struggle under poverty
This has got to stop ! Restaurant owners must understand the value of legitimate work and compensate and pay
workers their worth.
Lance Carroll says
Well said. A few downtown Flagler restaurants come to my mind when I read your comment, one in particular.
Aren’t the restaurant owners the ones who put up the money and take on the risk to open their establishments?
Most waiters and waitresses that I know make way more in tips than $15 minimum wage. Restaurant workers are the exception to the $15 minimum wage. If that’s what they want then do away with the tipping. If you don’t think your job is worth it then move on to a new career. If you are a waiter or waitress, that is your career choice. If you are not making enough in tips then you are not very good at waitressing. By the way, I even tip bad service but good service gets 20 to 25%. please stop with all this equity BS. Everyone has choices. Also, differentiate between restaurants and fast food. McD’s workers do not get tips.
“Most”, key word. The fact that a position relies on tips at all in 2021 is already a problem. Also, you cannot eat with your left hand and point with your right–in many places outside of the U.S., tipping is completely frowned upon, and should not be end-all-be-all of pay that essentially boils down to a roll of the dice on whether or not a customer judges you to be worthy of getting to buy groceries that week.
I worked waiting tables in the 80s and got paid under minimum wage. I busted my but and made great tips. Sometimes 200 or more a night. I had a following of people that would pass on open tables so they could have me wait on them. I rarely get good service at a restaurant and I tip accordingly. People have lost work ethic!
James M. Mejuto says
Re: Local says: So, what is your point?
You were the only one working the tables who did his job
Give me a break !
James M. Mejuto
No…I was the best at the restaurant. I did extra thing like bringing finger bowls to women after they ate seafood. The waitresses were lazy and complained about everything. I just went above and beyond. Lazy people earn what they get and hustlers make money
Stopped reading after “in the 80s”. It’s 2021, and given the massive change in economy in the United States, anything related to financial factors from the 80s no longer applies. Your experience would be very different in today’s market.
tom dooley says
Florida is a tourist state and thats about it. The wages have always been low. Restaurants are temporary work until you can find a better job unless your the owner/manager. I worked at restaurants up north when I was young and even up there the pay wasn’t worth emailing home. But like “local” said “people have lost their work ethics”. The jobs are there; the question is do you want to “really work”? Young people today want to start off at 100 K a year and do nothing but “play on the computer/phones”(worst invention ever; damn wife is calling me now lol). It’s not that easy people you have to start somewhere and prove that you are reliable,honest, and willing to work when the company needs you, put in the blood,sweat and tears. Work builds character and let’s you know, that yes I can do it! Unless you have rich friends,relatives or win the lottery you will have to work somewhere one day so take the chance and prove to yourself I can do it! I didn’t make much working at restaurants but damn I had a lot of fun with my coworkers who became my friends. So my advice; take what you can get for now while your looking to better yourself! The money will come later as you gain more experience. Keep your chin up,smile and keep reaching for the stars!!
“For anyone thinking that that’s keeping people at home is preposterous,” Templin said. Watch how fast those empty positions are filled when the $300 hand out stops…….
You act like 300 is a lot of money . It’s not. Move on . We Voted in 15.00$$ an hour
300$ is extra on top of what they normally get. Think man think! Not only did you people vote in 15$ hr….you also voted in 7$ gallons of milk….4$ dozens of eggs….10$ cheese….20$ steaks….7$ lbs of hamburger and the list never stops….not even with food…clothes.tires. sheets. Furniture. Gas. Light switches. Plumbing fixtures….kinda nullifies the 15$ per hr….sheesh!
Transitory Inflation which will be temporary after coming out of a Pandemic
I’m not sure what restaurants you are talking about in Flagler where servers don’t make much money. At the one I currently work at, the servers average $200 or more in tips alone for a four hour shift! And that doesn’t include their hourly pay. If you ask me, that’s pretty darned good! I never made that much in my previous profession. And I have a Masters degree!
So that $200 in four hours equates to about $52,000 per year. Now take out for medical, dental and vision; toss in 15% for retirement and you are left with around $35K. Not bad for a single young person with no real debt or a college student – but for the single parent with a couple of kids the cost of child care alone would force them below the poverty line. Now if you were not making $52K a year including your benefits package with a Masters, something was seriously wrong or you had a degree in basket weaving or philosophy.
And to add to that…there are many employees choosing to work in the restaurant arena who also have college degrees. However, they are not able to make a “liveablewage,” therefore, they are now working in the restaurant industry because in doing so, they can!
Maybe if someone can’t afford the upbringing of children on the money they make they should get a better job or not have kids. Priorities are all screwed up in today’s society. Everyone of a younger age than mine seems to think they need to have kids regardless of how much money they make. They might think they need to bow to pure pressure from mom and dad who want grand kids. But then it ends up the grandparents raising the kids because the parents can’t afford to do so or they are just to young.
OK Boomer says
Sounds as though everyone agrees no one wants to do this work. The assertion that some how you can better yourself through performing unrewarding tasks at unrewarding pay is typical of the boomer generation that just wants to be entitled. Guess what snowflakes, you may not be getting waited on by low wage workers anymore. The demographics have changed the economics and you might be stuck with takeout or having to do some of that work you praise so highly and cook your damn selves.
When the prices to eat out become too high then many restaurants will go under and the servers will be back to unemployment. Boomers are not entitled. We worked our whole lives. We EARNED ours. Now go and earn yours.
I’m curious as to what you do for a living ? “the only thing certain in life is death and taxes”.
Here is an idea, the cost of sodas at restruants is criminal, how about using some of that money to pay your workers rather than take that third vacation or buying that Rolls Royce?
James M. Mejuto says
Re: Res Restaurants: Of course their staffing is below earlier figures . . . Who wants to work
for minimum pay, $8.65 per hour . . . and the boss makes a healthy profit!
James M. Mejuto
Not always the case. First the waiters and waitresses get tips on top of their pay. Good working waiters and waitresses can make a good living . However, it’s also not true that the boss (I’m assuming you mean the owner) has a very large over head to deal with having a restaurant, especially if the restaurant has a full liquor bar. Those licenses are about 100,000.00. I know this because I have a family member that owned a very successful restaurant in Palm Coast back in the 90’s and the overhead costs would make your head spin.
You can see the trend. No workers equal food & drink prices go up in restaurants. Which is rather strange, nothing like pushing away the clientele with higher prices. . People would rather stay home and get paid by the GOVT or the State, but thats coming to an end. Get out and get a job, you were working before Covid.
We are getting out and getting a job, just not in the restaurants anymore, so deal with it and serve your own damn selves go buffet style and have a good one. Bye
Nobody working 40 hours a week should be living in poverty. This is not a controversial statement. No “just get a better job” about it. Labor is labor, and I have a feeling a significant amount of people in these comments do not tip nearly as well as they think they do.