Execs at the parent of Olive Garden and Longhorn say they haven’t seen a difference in job applications since unemployment benefits ended

Olive garden
Patrons enter an Olive Garden Restaurant. Steve Helber/AP Photo
  • Executives at Darden said that they haven’t seen a difference in applications since benefits ended.
  • Darden is the parent company of Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse, among other brands.
  • Data shows that the Delta variant, not unemployment, was keeping people home.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

When enhanced unemployment benefits expired in early September, some experts expressed hope that an end to the labor shortage would follow. So far, many employers say that hasn’t been the case.

For Darden Restaurants, including Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse, ending unemployment benefits hasn’t been the solution to labor issues.

“We have, as we said, staffing challenges, and the challenges are a little bit more in certain parts of the country, but not necessarily driven by unemployment benefits,” Darden President and COO Rick Cardenas said in an earnings call on Thursday. “We haven’t really seen a dramatic change in staffing flow.”

Darden’s case fits in with the data available so far. Bloomberg reported that workers haven’t rushed back to jobs even as the benefits lapsed. The Delta variant of COVID-19, not an extra $US300 ($AU411) a week, kept workers home, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s monthly report. Around 5.6 million people said they were unable to work because of the pandemic, up from 5.2 million in July, and 1.5 million people said the pandemic prevented them from looking for work.

Business owners say they’re unable to find staff and in some cases even cite a lack of desire to work, while workers say they can demand better pay and benefits in the tight labor market, and they don’t want to work in dangerous conditions for low pay. As a result, fast-food chains are having to adjust hours or only operate drive-thrus as they face a lack of staff to keep restaurants running.

Darden is trying to attract staff by offering a more appealing job than its competitors.

“I think as we have to continue to find ways to improve that proposition,” to workers by offering flexibility, opportunities for growth, and well-run workplaces, Chairman and CEO Gene Lee said in the earnings call.

Restaurants are in an especially difficult situation, with some chains forced to adjust hours or close dining rooms completely without enough workers.

“It’s really tough times for staffing,” Kalinowski Equity founder Mark Kalinowski previously told Insider. Restaurant workers continue to quit the industry at record rates, moving to jobs where they don’t have to interact with angry customers.

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