Applebee’s offered free appetizers in hopes of luring in 10,000 job candidates and more than 40,000 applied

applebees
  • Applebee’s “Apps for Apps” promotion was a huge success and brought in 40,000 applicants.
  • Restaurants are increasingly turning to application perks to attract potential employees.
  • Retail is facing a labor shortage industry-wide.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Applebee’s says it drew in 40,000 job applicants for 10,000 openings with its free appetizer incentives.

Restaurants are offering up all kinds of perks to attract workers, and Applebee’s seems to be one of the most successful. On May 17, the chain hosted a national hiring day in the hopes of filling 10,000 open positions. Interviewing candidates received coupons for a free appetizer through the “Apps for Apps” program. It got four times as many applicants, Applebee’s president John Cywinski told The New York Times.

“Our No. 1-selling category is appetizers, so we decided to offer an app for an app. I’ve got guests coming back in droves, but I don’t have all the team members I’d like,” Cywinski said.

Hiring has been difficult for many companies that have reported a lack of candidates for open positions. But retail and restaurants are are also struggling to retain workers who want to leave for new opportunities. That’s making the sector’s labor crunch even worse.

Read more: Ghost kitchens operators like CloudKitchens, Kitchen United, and All Day Kitchens are expanding their business models beyond the rent-a-space model as competition heats up

Subway, McDonald’s, and Taco Bell, along with others, are advertising thousands of open positions online in hopes of staffing up and returning to pre-pandemic hours with open dining rooms. Some hiring managers are advertising perks like $50 for an interview, signing bonuses, and referral programs. Chipotle got thousands of applications after announcing it was boosting the minimum wage.

It seems perks aren’t always enough to restaff restaurants as thousands of people leave the industry for good. Some workers who were furloughed or laid off early in the pandemic may never return to fast food and customer service work.

In place of customer-facing retail jobs, some workers are turning to warehouse employment with companies like Amazon, even as those jobs make headlines for poor working conditions. The e-commerce giant has hired about 2,800 people a day since July, mostly in warehouse roles.

Do you have a story to share about a retail or restaurant chain? Email this reporter at mmeisenzahl@businessinsider.com.

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A former employee is suing In-N-Out, accusing it of violating labor laws and COVID protocols in California

In-N-Out
  • A former In-N-Out employee says he was fired for taking sick time and reporting COVID violations.
  • The chain called the claims “baseless and false.”
  • The employee is seeking payout for each claim of labor law violation through California courts.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A former In-N-Out employee filed a lawsuit accusing the chain of violating the state labor code and COVID-19 protocols, National Restaurant News reported.

Luis Becerra’s June 7 complaint accuses In-N-Out of retaliation for using sick leave and engaging in protected activities, failing to enforce COVID safety regulations, and not paying wages owed at the end of employment. Becerra worked for In-N-Out for five years until May 2020, when he says he was unfairly terminated.

“At In-N-Out Burger, we have always cared for our associates as if they are our own family and we are disappointed with the baseless and false claims that Mr. Becerra has made in his lawsuit,” the chain’s chief legal and business officer Arnie Wensinger told Insider.

Read more: Newly revealed CloudKitchen documents show how Travis Kalanick’s company is pivoting as new rivals enter the crowded ghost kitchen space

Becerra claims in the lawsuit that In-N-Out did not enforce the safety measures required by the LA Health Department, including social distancing, personal protective equipment, and placing sick employees on medical leave.

“Mr. Becerra saw all of this going on, so he reported it. … In-N-Out responded by using improper write-ups it had issued against Mr. Becerra for taking short, valid medical leaves as false justification to terminate him.” Becerra’s representative Rene Potter told Law 360.

Becerra said he was fired for taking sick time in May 2020 related to his asthma and that In-N-Out told him the official reason he was terminated was a forged medical note, listing “providing false documentation” and exhausting sick pay. He also said he never received his final paycheck.

Becerra is asking for civil penalties on behalf of himself and other In-N-Out employees for each individual labor code violation in accordance with California law, along with attorney’s fees.

Other fast-food chains have faced accusations of violating labor law related to sick leave over the last year. In April, New York City sued Chipotle, accusing the chain of illegally denying requests for time off and not paying workers for the time they took. The city said that Chipotle owed over $150 million to workers.

Do you have a story to share about a retail or restaurant chain? Email this reporter at mmeisenzahl@businessinsider.com.

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A Jersey Mike’s shop opening in California is offering a hiring bonus of up to $10,000, as fast food chains struggle to bring back workers

Jersey mikes subs
  • The Santa Cruz Jersey Mike’s is offering a hiring bonus of $10,000 for its assistant manager role.
  • The owner said the sandwich shop is working to adapt and find new ways to draw in workers.
  • It is one of many companies that has implemented new incentives to combat the labor shortage.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As fast food chains struggle to find workers, one sandwich shop is offering new hires up to $10,000.

A Jersey Mike’s in Santa Cruz, California told Fox Business it will pay a $10,000 incentive for a new assistant manager. The payment will be made in three installments during the manager’s first year at the shop.

The chain told the network that it has already received several qualified applications for the position that will pay $18 to $20 per hour.

The Jersey Mike’s location is set to open soon just 75 miles outside of San Francisco and is working to fill its employee roster by offering several other incentives for multiple roles. The Santa Cruz restaurant is offering $5,000 bonuses for new shift leaders and $500 for incoming full- and part-time employees, Fox Business reported.

Read more: McDonald’s franchisees blame hiring challenges on unemployment benefits and say an ‘inflationary time bomb’ will force them to hike Big Mac prices

“We’re going to have to run a very efficient business to make this work but I think we all need to adapt to this climate for our businesses [to be] successful,” Brett Johanson, the co-owner of the shop, told the network.

The company did not respond to a request for comment from Insider. It is one of many companies that has begun offering new incentives to lure in prospective candidates. In April, Insider’s Kate Taylor reported that a McDonald’s in Florida was paying people $50 just to show up for a job interview.

Major companies, including Amazon, Walmart, and Chipotle, have also recently boosted pay in order to make their jobs more competitive in a labor shortage that has left restaurants and retailers scrambling.

Forty percent of restaurants say they’re understaffed, and 80% say that they’re keeping at least one hiring role posted at all times, QSR Magazine reported in April. Last week, the US Chamber of Commerce called the labor shortage a “national emergency,” pointing to data that there are more job vacancies than available workers in South Dakota, Nebraska, and Vermont.

On Sunday, Insider’s Áine Cain reported that long hours, unruly customers, and low pay have caused minimum wage workers to quit their jobs in droves.

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McDonald’s new BTS meal is already outpacing the hit Travis Scott meal in popularity

McDonald's BTS meal
  • McDonald’s launched the BTS meal with the Korean band at the end of May.
  • In its first week, it drove more traffic to stores than the Travis Scott meal.
  • Celebrity partnerships continue to be huge for fast food companies in 2021.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

McDonald’s BTS meal is bringing in the most customers the chain has seen all year after only a week, according to foot traffic reports from third-party researchers.

McDonald’s partnered with the famous Korean boy band BTS on a signature promotion in 49 countries that launched on May 26 in the US. Restaurant visits were up 12% over the previous week during the first seven days of the promotion, a report from Gordon Haskett Research Advisors found. These numbers are the highest of 2021 so far.

McDonald’s customers in the US can order a BTS meal: a 10-piece McNuggets, medium fries, a medium Coke, and sweet chili and Cajun sauces inspired by menu items in McDonald’s South Korea.

Read more: Shake Shack founder’s VC fund just invested in this plant-based milk brand that’s aiming to be the ‘Nestle for millenials’

“We’re excited to bring customers even closer to their beloved band in a way only McDonald’s can – through our delicious food – when we introduce the BTS signature order on our menu next month,” Morgan Flatley, the chief marketing officer of McDonald’s US, said in a statement when the promotion was announced.

McDonald’s has partnered with celebrities on signature order campaigns before to huge success. The Travis Scott meal last fall was so popular that some locations ran out of Quarter Pounder ingredients. It was also enriching for Scott personally, as he netted at least $20 million from the deal, according to Forbes. The BTS meal has the potential to be even more successful for McDonald’s – it is outpacing the gains from the first week of the Travis Scott Meal, which bumped traffic 9% in the first week it was offered.

Collaborating with young artists and creators became huge for fast-food chains in 2020, and is continuing strong in 2021. The deals helped brands connect with Gen Z customers and often ended up on social media and as TikTok trends.

Like the two other celebrity collaborations, the BTS meal is made up of existing menu items to draw in customers (though the sauces are a new addition in the US), a move that analysts have praised. With a celebrity endorsement, brands can harness the energy and excitement of a new product without actually adding menu items.

The era of fast-food and celebrity partnerships isn’t likely to end anytime soon. Brands continue to look for strategies to reach younger customers, and they’ve found something that works.

“They look to recommendations much more than any other generation has. They’re very reliant on social media. They’re very reliant on their friends,” Flatley told Business Insider.

The BTS meal isn’t yet available in every country McDonald’s has planned. By June 25, residents of all 49 included countries will be able to try it out.

Despite the meal’s success so far, it hasn’t moved the needle as much as McDonald’s chicken sandwich did. The crispy chicken sandwich launched in February bumped traffic 16% in the first week, according to Gordon Haskett. Placer.ai found that foot traffic increased more than 20% week-over-week in the days following the release, helping the chain get closer to pre-pandemic numbers.

Do you have a story to share about McDonald’s or another company? Email mmeisenzahl@businessinsider.com.

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Burger King is promising to donate to an LGBTQ group for every chicken sandwich sold ‘even on Sundays’ amid calls to boycott Chick-fil-A

BK_Rebrand_Stills_Signage_1
Burger King rebrand.

  • Burger King will donate to the Human Rights Campaign for every chicken sandwich sold this month.
  • BK announced the initiative in a tweet aimed at Chick-fil-A.
  • Chick-fil-A is under fire for CEO donations to groups fighting LGBTQ protections.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Burger King says that for every Ch’King sandwich sold during June, which is Pride month, it will donate to The Human Rights Campaign.

The chain announced the donation plans in a tweet on June 3 that seemed pointed at Chick-fil-A, the reigning chicken sandwich fast food restaurant. BK says it will donate 40 cents for every chicken sandwich sold up to $250,000, or 625,000 sandwiches.

Chick-fil-A, which is famously closed on Sundays, is once again facing scrutiny over donations made by CEO Dan Cathy to groups fighting legislation for LGBTQ protections. Cathy is a “high-dollar donor” to the National Christian Charitable Foundation (NCF), one of the largest charities in the US with a history of funding opposition to The Equality Act, The Daily Beast reported.

Chick-fil-A itself no longer makes political donations.

Read more: Newly revealed CloudKitchen documents show how Travis Kalanick’s company is pivoting as new rivals enter the crowded ghost kitchen space

The Equality Act would expand civil rights protections to LGBTQ people, making it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identification in employment, housing, and other areas. The NCF funds opposition to the bill through donations to groups fighting the legislation, including the Heritage Foundation and the Alliance Defending Freedom.

Chick-fil-A did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

The Dan and Rhonda Cathy Foundation donated $5,750 to the NCF in 2018, 2017, and 2016, according to 990 tax filings.

Burger King’s Pride Month promotion is a chance for it to distinguish itself from the crowded chicken sandwich landscape. Burger King released the Ch’King sandwich on June 3 after two years of recipe testing.

KFC, Popeyes, and McDonald’s all sell their own versions of crispy chicken sandwiches, though Chick-fil-A remains the chain to beat. As of December 2020, Chick-fil-A still had by far the largest share of online chicken sandwiches sales at 45%. No other brand even reached 20%.

Do you have a story to share about a retail or restaurant chain? Email this reporter at mmeisenzahl@businessinsider.com.

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Nearly half of restaurant owners said they struggled to pay their rent this month since the labor shortage has reduced their revenues

Sushi Chef Jessica Loness with an order of sushi she just finished preparing at the Go Fish! Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Bar in Sinking Spring in April 2021.
Two-thirds of small business owners in the restaurant industry said they were struggling to find workers, per an Alignable survey.

  • Restaurant owners say they’re struggling to afford rent amid a devastating labor shortage.
  • Two-thirds said they had difficulty finding workers, per an Alignable survey.
  • This is despite them offering higher wages to attract new hires.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Nearly half of restaurant owners say they don’t think they can afford rent this month as the pandemic continues to paralyze the industry, according to a survey by Alignable first reported by Pizza Marketplace.

Many of these owners said the US’ current labor shortage, which in some cases caused them to shorten opening hours and therefore reduced revenues, was the reason behind this, Alignable said.

Alignable surveyed 7,774 small and medium-sized US business owners and found that most businesses said they were struggling with rent payments due to inflationary pressures and hiring shortages.

But it found that the restaurant sector was worst hit by the problem, with 49% of restaurant owners saying that they were unlikely to be able to afford rent in May. This is up from 35% the month before.

Read more: How Starbucks is defying the labor shortage crisis with transformative perks, not cash teasers like McDonald’s

“This is sad news for the restaurant industry, which, last month, appeared to be one of the frontrunners in the recovery, slowly rebounding from COVID issues,” Alignable said, noting that many restaurants had “spent the last 14 months struggling just to stay afloat.”

Its surveys showed that restaurants’ ability to pay rent fluctuated much more than small business owners from other industries, soaring in March before sinking in April and then rising again in May.

The latest survey, carried out between April 24 and May 17, showed that half of small business owners said they were struggling to find workers – rising to two-thirds in the restaurant industry.

This is despite many restaurants hiking up wages to attract new workers. Alignable said that half of restaurant owners in the survey said that they were paying workers more now than they had during the height of the pandemic, largely to lure in new hires.

“Based on that data, and hundreds of comments we’ve received, it’s fair to say that much of the setback for restaurants can be attributed to the labor shortage,” Chuck Casto, Alignable’s head of corporate communications and news, told Pizza Marketplace.

It’s not just small businesses that have been affected by the labor shortage. Restaurant chains such as Subway and Dunkin’ to have cut opening hours and closed dining rooms, while Chipotle, Taco Bell, and others are offering lucrative perks such as cash bonuses, raises, and education benefits to attract new staff. A McDonald’s restaurant is even offering free iPhones to new hires.

Insider’s Ayelet Sheffey reported that shortages could be caused by a mix of unemployment benefits, COVID-19 health concerns, caring responsibilities, and low wages.

Danny Meyer, the CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, said that many restaurant workers left New York City because they couldn’t afford to live there without their usual wages during the pandemic, leading to a major staffing drain for businesses in the city. He added that many laid-off staff got jobs in other industries and may not return to hospitality.

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New York City restaurants are being crushed by the current labor shortage and may take months to get enough staff, Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer said

Restaurateur Danny Meyer
  • Restaurants in NYC are struggling to hire new staff, Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer told CNBC.
  • It could take months for restaurants to recruit enough staff to properly function, Meyer said.
  • Many hospitality staff left the city during the pandemic, while others swapped industries, he said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

New York City restaurants are being crushed by the US’ current labor shortage – and it could take months for them to reach proper staffing levels, restaurateur Danny Meyer told CNBC’s “Closing Bell” Wednesday.

“Nobody can hire back all of their workers even if they wanted to because many of our workers have left the city,” Meyer said. He founded Shake Shack and is the CEO Union Square Hospitality Group, the parent company of New York City hotspots Union Square Cafe and Gramercy Tavern.

Many restaurant workers left NYC because they couldn’t afford to live there without their usual wages during the pandemic, Meyer said. He added that many laid-off staff got jobs in other industries “that were actually doing quite well during COVID,” and may not return to hospitality.

Read more: Shake Shack founder’s investment fund led a $21.5 million raise for a tech tool that keeps good restaurant workers from quitting amid an extreme labor shortage

The fast-food industry is facing a crushing labor shortage, causing restaurant chains such as Subway and Dunkin’ to cut opening hours and close dining rooms.

Chipotle, Taco Bell, and others are offering lucrative perks such as cash bonuses, raises, and education benefits to attract new staff. A McDonald’s restaurant is even offering free iPhones to new hires.

“Everybody is hiring at the exact same time,” Meyer, who also chairs the NYC Economic Development Corporation, said.

“It is going to take, in my judgement, at least two or three months for supply and demand to keep up with each other and to hit an equilibrium,” he added.

The scramble for workers comes after Union Square Hospitality Group laid off 2,000 workers – or four in five staff – last March when the pandemic hit and New York banned dine-in services.

Meyer told CNBC Wednesday that the group’s 18 restaurants across New York were mainly open, apart from some in hotels and art museums, as well as one in a skyscraper.

Because people were still working from home, the lunch business was “pretty much off the table,” meaning that workers often only have to staff one shift.

He said he expected this to pick up as Broadway and other concerts return and people continue to get vaccinated.

“Vaccination has probably been the greatest thing that has happened for our industry, both for the people who work for us and for our guests,” he said.

Meyer added that there’s “absolutely no shortage of demand for New Yorkers to go out.” The shift to outdoor dining, which he expects to become a “permanent part of the landscape,” means that restaurants can have more seats and so serve more customers, he added.

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IHOP is launching a new chain called Flip’d, selling takeout pancakes in bowls. It’s ‘IHOP in fast-casual mode.’

IHOP Flip'd Blueberry Bowl, Bounty Bowl, Strawberry-Banana
Flip’d will sell pancakes in bowls.

  • Pancake chain IHOP is launching a new chain called Flip’d, described as “IHOP in fast-casual mode.”
  • Flip’d will sell IHOP food with a twist, and will be focused on convenience and fast service.
  • Menu items include burritos, chicken sandwiches, wraps, egg sandwiches, and pancakes served in bowls.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Flip’d will be different to IHOP restaurants.

IHOP Flip'd Interior
Flip’d’s interior.

IHOP President Jay Johns told Insider that Flip’d was “IHOP but different.”

Rather than table service, guests can order from a digital kiosk or directly at the counter, as well as online for collection or delivery.

“Sometimes you want to take your family to an IHOP for a really fun Sunday morning breakfast or brunch, and we’re still there for that,” Johns said.

“But sometimes you don’t have time for a sit-down meal. You want straight IHOP-style food that they’re familiar with, but they want it again on their own terms. I needed to go, I need it delivered. I need it the way I need it.”

Fewer people are dining out for breakfast during the pandemic as many work from home. Delivery and to-go orders now account for around a third of IHOP’s sales, Johns said.

Flip’d will serve its pancakes in bowls.

IHOP Flip'd Blueberry Bowl, Bounty Bowl, Strawberry-Banana
IHOP Flip’d’s Bounty, Strawberry Banana, and Blueberry Pancake Bowls.

Like IHOP, the chain will focus on breakfast foods, with its famous buttermilk pancakes at the center of the menu.

But unlike IHOP, many of these will be delivered to customers or eaten on-the-go – so IHOP is choosing to sell its Flip’d pancakes in bowls.

As well as ordering set dishes, like IHOP’s classic Strawberry Banana pancake, customers can also build their own pancake bowls with a variety of toppings, such as fresh fruit, sauces, bacon, egg, and chocolate chips.

Customers can also choose to switch out the pancakes for oatmeal or vanilla Greek yogurt.

Flip’d will sell other breakfast classics, too.

IHOP Flip'd Breakfast Sandwiches
Flip’d’s breakfast sandwiches.

The menu includes a variety of egg-based dishes such as egg sandwiches in brioche buns with a range of toppings.

You can also buy lunch and dinner dishes.

IHOP Flip'd Dream Chicken Bacon Burger, Jala Kick, Crisp Chicken
Flip’d’s sandwich range.

As well as its breakfast menu, Flip’d will also sell a range of burritos, bowls, sandwiches, salads, and wraps.

“Most of the menu items are not going to be what you could get at a regular IHOP,” Johns said.

New dishes include the Garden, a bowl with scrambled eggs, cheesy crispy potatoes, baby arugula, spinach, sautéed mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, sliced avocado, and avocado cream, and the Late Night, which is cheesy French fries, topped with diced Black Angus Steakburger, caramelized onions, roasted tomatoes, pickles, and IHOP sauce.

It will also sell sandwiches with a choice of meat from Black Angus Steakburger, Buttermilk Crispy Chicken, and Grilled Chicken Breast.

Hot and cold drinks will be available, too.

IHOP Flip'd Coffee drinks
Flip’d’s drink selection.

These include fresh-pressed orange juice, nitro cold brews, and specialty espresso beverages.

You can still dine in.

IHOP Flip'd Interior
Flip’d’s interior.

Though the restaurants will be much smaller than traditional IHOP locations, customers can still eat their meals on site.

Johns said that the opening times of the restaurants hadn’t been fully decided yet – but he said there was a possibility that some could be 24 hours, like some IHOP sites.

The new chain leans on the pancake giant for its branding.

IHOP Flip'd Exterior
Flip’d’s exterior.

The similar branding creates a “brand halo” to encourage IHOP fans to try the new restaurants, Johns said.

The first location is set to open in Midtown Manhattan towards the end of July.

IHOP Flip'd Interior
Flip’d’s interior.

After this, the chain hopes to open restaurants in Lawrence, Kansas; Columbus, Ohio; and Dublin, Ohio.

Read more: These 6 restaurant chains skyrocketed in growth during the pandemic and now are courting new franchisees. Here’s what it takes to open and run an El Pollo Loco, Jack in the Box, Noodles and Company, and others.

The pandemic caused IHOP to rethink the launch plan for Flip’d.

IHOP Flip'd Interior
Flip’d’s interior.

IHOP originally planned to launch its first Flip’d site in Atlanta last April, with other restaurants in high-traffic city center spots to follow, but Johns said the pandemic both delayed this and caused IHOP to rethink its strategy.

The chain now plans to open restaurants in a mix of larger metropolitan areas, suburban areas, and what Johns described as “non-traditional venues.” This comes as more companies are letting employees work from home permanently, causing sales to slump for some city-center coffee and restaurant chains that usually target office workers.

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Some Starbucks employees are angry over mask mandates lifting, while others are eager to end customer confrontations

Starbucks mask requirement
  • Starbucks is one of several retailers to lift mask mandates following new CDC guidelines.
  • Some workers are worried about greater risk of exposure to COVID-19.
  • Others are eager to end confrontations with customers.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Starbucks is one of many retailers lifting mask requirements for customers, and workers say they are split over whether it’s the right decision.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday relaxed mask guidance for fully vaccinated people, and Starbucks, Walmart, Costco, and others have dropped mask requirements except in states where they are still legally required.

The new rules put retail workers in a bind. For some, ending confrontations with customers over masks is a welcome respite after a difficult year, but others remain worried about contracting COVID-19 and low vaccination rates.

Starbucks pointed Insider to the company’s updated COVID-19 response page, which says that face coverings are optional for fully vaccinated customers beginning Monday, May 17. Employees will continue to be required to wear double masks.

A Starbucks worker in Connecticut told Insider that she is concerned as a “chronically ill and high-risk barista,” and is considering leaving her job over mask mandates lifting. The worker and others cited in this story spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak frankly on the topic, and their employment was confirmed by Insider.

Read more: Restaurant and retail owners have 2 options nowadays: stop treating their workers like garbage or stop having workers at all

Masks are technically still required for unvaccinated customers, but in practice workers can’t police each person’s vaccination status.

A barista in Michigan who works at a Starbucks near a hospital shared concerns about the potential spread of the virus among immunocompromised patients.

“We can’t verify if the people coming in without a mask have been vaccinated or not, and we’re outside of a hospital so people with compromised immunities have to share spaces with people who have no mask on,” the worker said. “I’m worried we’re going to end up with another spike in cases.”

At the same time, many Starbucks workers have shared in interviews and on social media message boards that they are ready to end uncomfortable confrontations with customers over masks.

“It isn’t like the system was great when we were enforcing masks,” the Michigan barista said. “We still had people take masks down to talk to us, people who only wore face shields and would talk over the espresso bar, and kids who put their hands on everything and had no mask on at all.”

A Pennsylvania employee said that she and her coworkers struggled to enforce mask mandates prior to the revised CDC guidance.

Store management did not confront customers who refused to wear masks, and that made other employees uncomfortable when it came to enforcing the mandates, she said.

“We should not have to put ourselves in that situation and we should be able to ask disruptive customers to leave,” she said.

As of May 17, 47% of the US population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 37% are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.

The past year has exposed the massive demands put on retail workers, often for relatively low pay and few benefits, even as they were called heroes and essential workers. While tasked with enforcing mask mandates and interacting with customers during the height of a pandemic, many workers reported abuse, harassment, and assault on the job. A West Coast barista told Insider that she was “punched by a grown man” for asking him to wear a mask before restrictions were lifted.

These conflicts in customer-facing jobs over the past year have helped fuel a mass exodus from the retail industry as a growing number of openings in the labor market are making it easier for retail workers to transition to new careers.

Do you have a story to share about a retail or restaurant chain? Email this reporter at mmeisenzahl@businessinsider.com.

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Walmart, 7-Eleven, and McDonald’s shortened hours during the COVID-19 pandemic, and 24 hour shopping might be slow to return

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A McDonald’s open 24 hours attracts late night crowds of intoxicated customers.

  • Walmart, McDonald’s, and other chains shortened hours in response to COVID-19.
  • Some retailers are trying to return to 24/7 service, but they can’t find workers.
  • One expert thinks overnight shopping will return eventually.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US is finally reopening after more than a year of COVID-19 restrictions, but some things may never be the same.

In the spring of 2020, as people locked down to slow the spead of the coronavirus, retailers adjusted schedules to make extra time for cleaning stores. Restaurants and shops with 24 hour operating schedules were most affected. Walmart adjusted hours so stores could close early for nightly cleanings, and 7-Eleven recommended owners close at midnight. Not all McDonald’s were open 24 hours before the pandemic, but many closed dining rooms and shortened hours as safety precautions.

Restrictions are finally lifting as more of the population gets vaccinated, but conditions aren’t what they were before, making it unlikely stores will return to 24/7 hours any time soon. Workers are hesitant to take on the risks of nighttime schedules, people have changed their shopping habits during and pandemic, and the labor shortage is making staffing stores and restaurants extremely difficult.

Nearly half of all US restaurants say they are “severely understaffed,”and even getting applicants in the door has been a struggle. Some chains are turning to large-scale hiring events to screen swaths of candidates at once, with perks like cash just for showing up and drive-thru interviews at some stores.

Read more: How the team that rescued KFC brought their marketing and innovation strategy to Pizza Hut and crushed Domino’s in sales growth last quarter

7-Eleven, which has thousands of locations run by franchisees, told owner-operators to return to pre-pandemic hours in May.

The National Coalition of Associations of 7-Eleven Franchisees (NCASEF), which represents about 7,200 US locations, sent a letter to corporate leaders saying the shortage of workers and higher operating costs have led to a “very dire” situation.

Staying open for longer hours, as the company has instructed owners to do by May 24, isn’t feasible, they said. Franchisees say finding staff for overnight shifts is “extremely challenging,” and overnight sales do not necessarily cover the costs of labor.

Low traffic overnight hours can also bring risks of theft, violence, and intoxicated drivers, which may not be worth it to many operators or workers.

McDonald’s, which just announced plans to raise wages at company-owned restaurants, is suffering from many of the same issues. Franchisees who can’t find staff to cover hours largely blame enhanced unemployment benefits.

“Why work when you can get more staying home?” one McDonald’s franchisee previously told Insider. “Stimulus and unemployment are killing the workforce.” At least one location has resorted to offering $50 payments for interviewing, and another in Fayetteville, North Carolina, is reportedly offering a $500 signing bonus. Some locations, though, are back to 24 hour service.

For retailers with a franchise model, operators and corporate have different incentives, Mark Kalinowski of Kalinowski Equity Research told Insider. From an operator standpoint, franchisees like the 7-Eleven letter signees “might sell at night, but not profitably,” Kalinowski said. Meanwhile, corporate is incentivized to push for more royalties that could come from longer hours.

Walmart has extended shopping hours from the original cut last March. US stores closed by 8:30 pm as of March 2020, and in November 2020 Walmart adjusted scheduled again so that stores would stay open until 11 pm, but there has been no indication of plans to further expand back to 24 hour operation. Walmart did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.

While 24/7 shopping and dining is unlikely to return any time soon, experts aren’t convinced its’ gone forever. In the short term, a lack of workers will make it difficult for businesses to expand hours, Kalinowski told Insider, but “if there’s consumer demand, operators will figure out how to make it happen.”

While Kalinowski thinks extended hours will make a “substantial return,” experts are unsure when to expect these changes.

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