A 19-year-old fast-food boss says he expects to lose half his staff in the next few weeks as the labor shortage hammers restaurants

Anna Cooban-Thu, July 22, 2021, 7:33 AM

  • Jason Cabrera, 19, is the general manager of a Layne’s Chicken Fingers in Texas, earning $50,000.
  • Cabrera said his biggest problem is finding enough workers in the labor shortage.
  • He said he expected to lose 11 staff members in the next few weeks as they go off to college.

A 19-year-old manager of a chicken restaurant in Allen, Texas, told Insider that he expected to lose half his staff in the next few weeks.

Jason Cabrera runs a branch of the Layne’s Chicken Fingers restaurant chain, which has promoted teenagers to management roles because of a severe staff shortage. Cabrera, who earns a $50,000 salary, estimated that he’d need to replace 11 of his 22 junior employees in the coming weeks as many go off to college out of state.

The labor shortage is the biggest challenge he faces as the restaurant manager, he said.

Garrett Reed, the CEO of Layne’s, told Insider in a separate interview that he would “usually have at least a handful of seasoned managers, people in their late 20s, early 30s,” running his eight restaurants but that the labor shortage led him to promote three workers who are 18 or 19 to manager roles, including Cabrera.

Reed said that he’d found it “tough to compete” with places like Walmart and McDonalds that can afford to offer higher wages and that many of his workers had left to join bigger companies.

Cabrera took on the role a week after his 19th birthday in January.

He told Insider that he was “huge on recruitment” and used a hiring service called CareerPlug to find workers.

“I always refresh that page every day,” he said.

“I’m always looking for someone, and there’s days I won’t get any, there’s days I’ll get five.”

In recent months, restaurants have struggled to find enough workers to keep up with customer demand, leading some owners to hike wages and offer large sign-on bonuses to entice workers.

Hiring appears to be picking up: Food services and drinking places added 194,000 jobs in June, accounting for more than half of the job gains in the leisure and hospitality industries that month, the Labor Department said. But a recent survey found that three in four independent restaurants were still struggling to find workers.

Cabrera insisted that a lack of staff had not led to a drop in standards. “I make sure when I do my interviews and whatnot people know that I have high standards,” Cabrera told Insider. He said he looks for staffers who care about the quality of service and work with urgency.

Cabrera’s annual earnings are far above the $9.50-an-hour “learning wage” that Reed said his entry-level employees received and the $28,860 a year that the average 16- to 19-year-old in the US can expect to make, according to Labor Department data.

His salary doesn’t include any performance-linked bonuses that general managers might receive at the end of the year.

Cabrera said he’d struggled in past jobs to be taken seriously because of his age but had embraced the responsibilities of his new role.

“Just knowing that anything that happens inside of that store is on me,” he said. “Anything that goes wrong, anything that goes right, it all comes back to me.”

Cabrera told Insider that he was saving up to open his own Layne’s franchise. “I just want to see how fast I can get there,” he said.

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