restaurant workers

Takeout’s toll on restaurant workers, packaging

Takeout has surged in popularity throughout the pandemic. But while the customers are happy and restaurants are surviving, what is the toll on restaurant workers?

In tandem with a combination of factors, including dining rooms being closed for long periods, increased technological adoption, and customers’ desire to both continue supporting local restaurants and also attain a wider variety of options with more convenience, mobile orders have boomed over the last 20 months.

Off-premise restaurant orders were up by around 20 per cent in September compared with the same time two years ago, according to NPD Group data.

But that’s not exactly seen as good news by some foodservice staff.

Business Insider reports that the biggest complaint among workers is that mobile to-go orders overload kitchens’ capacity and lead to overworked and burned-out employees and irate customers. At Starbucks, for example, the combination of drive-thru, in-store, and mobile orders made it “impossible” to stick to management’s standards, according to an employee in Texas.

Meanwhile, at Chipotle, which has increased digital orders to nearly half of all sales, mobile orders come in at a much faster rate than they can realistically be filled, creating a constant backlog. In turn, that causes significant overworking, with one employee reporting she didn’t get to leave until three hours after her scheduled finish, only finally getting away at 1:30 a.m.

Even at full-service restaurants, the issue is being seen as the vast proliferation of to-go orders has changed much of the day-to-day operation. “The sheer volume of what you are expected to churn out is unsustainable,” Sophia Um, a bakery worker at a California Cheesecake Factory, told The Wall Street Journal. “I have had co-workers run to the breakroom for a mental breakdown.”

And, according to Lightspeed data, 60 per cent of responding restaurant workers say guests are tipping the same or less than before the pandemic even though they are ordering more food. That loss of tips is especially impacting workers at full-service restaurants.

Meanwhile, another issue being caused is a worsening shortage of items like plastic straws, coffee cups, and to-go containers at a time when the foodservice supply chain is already stretched thin.

Packaging companies that manufacture takeout containers, straws and to-go cups for restaurants have had to deal with soaring costs for shipping containers and key materials like resin and paper, reports CNBC.