A former Starbucks supervisor and other restaurant workers share the breaking points that made them quit

A waitress is taking a customer’s order at a table. There are other customers and another server in the background.
A waitress takes an order from a customer at the reopening of Langer’s Delicatessen-Restaurant in Los Angeles on June 15, 2021. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images
  • The restaurant and hospitality industry is being especially hard-hit by the ongoing labor shortage.
  • Insider spoke with 3 workers about why they quit their food industry jobs this year.
  • They said they felt overworked, stressed out, and more frequently mistreated by customers.

Millions of Americans have quit their jobs in recent months, but few fields have seen the level of turnover currently plaguing the service industry. In fact, restaurant and hotel employees are quitting their jobs at a rate that’s more than twice the record national average. Low wages and increasingly bad customer behavior are among the reasons people cite for leaving. 

From a recent grad to a mom-of-two who worked in the industry for 15 years, Insider spoke with three former restaurant employees about why they quit. Here’s what they had to say.

These following as-told-to essays are based on conversations with each subject about their careers. They have been edited for length and clarity.

Tom Mangione, 24, Cincinnati, Ohio

Tom Mangione Judy Brumley
Mangione says working as a shift supervisor at Starbucks became overwhelming during the pandemic. Tom Mangione

I was a shift supervisor at Starbucks for one year before leaving in June. On top of barista duties, I was a key holder, handled store orders — placing and receiving — and acted as a manager when the store manager wasn’t available. My coworkers and direct supervisor were all lovely people, but we didn’t feel supported by the company. 

Our hours were reduced when COVID hit, but the store wasn’t less busy. We just had fewer employees, which contributed to burnout and a lot of turnover. People who’d been with the company for several years were quitting, often without notice, and customers were complaining about things in-store employees couldn’t change. 

We were also dealing with a lot of supply chain issues — we constantly ran out of products, but the company refused to cut down the menu to ensure availability. One day, my store only had cheese danishes for food; no breakfast sandwiches, no other pastries. Customers were furious, but why wouldn’t they be? Starbucks markets itself as a restaurant. 

I think that low pay, reduced hours, and the expectation that verbal abuse from customers will be tolerated has made restaurant jobs, especially customer-facing positions, harder than ever. Providing good customer service while trying to work fast enough to meet corporate goals is becoming more difficult. 

Now I’m working for a smaller franchise and I don’t see the same burnout here because our bosses are quick to address the kind of pain points Starbucks failed to acknowledge. Most people I know who were working at Starbucks full-time have left for other coffee jobs. Since I’m happy in my new position, I’m planning to stay in the coffee world until I graduate with my masters of education. I do hope the current crisis could inspire restaurants and employers to value their workers more in the future, and that’s fantastic. 

Editor’s note: In an email to Insider, a Starbucks spokesperson said it is “working quickly and closely with our supply chain vendors to restock items” that have been impacted by supply chain shortages, adding that employees “are encouraged to recommend alternative items if a customer’s favorite is out of stock.” The email also highlighted the company’s October announcement that it will raise pay for hourly employees who’ve worked at Starbucks for at least two years, hire more recruiters and trainers, and improve staff scheduling.

Dana Gurry, 32, Dingmans Ferry, Pennsylvania

Dana Gurry Judy Brumley
Gurry says she felt overworked and underpaid as a store manager at Dairy Queen. Dana Gurry

My entire career has been in the food and beverage industry, from working at sit-down restaurants to bartending. Most recently, I was a store manager at Dairy Queen, where I’ve worked on and off for nearly 14 years. Earlier this month, I decided to put in my notice after years of feeling overworked and underpaid.

As  manager, I was responsible for opening the store, which often included doing a deep clean if it had been left messy the night before. Once the store opened, I’d help take customer orders and cook in the kitchen in addition to making the following week’s schedule, calculating hours for payroll, doing inventory so I could place orders for supplies, and decorating cakes. 

Over the years I saw the restaurant change for the worst. When I first started, the store was immaculately clean and every worker did their job. Eventually, it got to the point where everything was dirty and I was exhausted trying to get everything done while other employees were just hanging out. There weren’t any consequences for those who showed up late or not at all. 

I think people in this industry feel overworked, underpaid, and mistreated by their employers. It’s also degrading and mentally exhausting to deal with countless rude customers who don’t treat you like a human being. Quitting was a spur-of-the-moment choice because of how seriously the job was affecting my mental health and general well-being.

I’m fortunate enough to be married to a wonderful man who has supported me during this time. Personally, I would prefer not to return to the industry because I don’t see it changing anytime soon. Restaurants need to offer better pay and incentives for all of the hard work their employees are doing day in and day out.

Editor’s note: In email response to Insider, a DQ spokesperson said “All DQ restaurants in Pennsylvania are owned by independent franchise owners. All employee relations matters are managed between the franchisee owner and their employees.” 

Kilee Hutchings, 30, Fayetteville, North Carolina

Kilee Hutchings.
Hutchings spent over a decade working in the service industry before quitting this year. Kilee Hutchings.

I’ve spent the last 15 years in restaurants. I was a salaried manager at a well-known chain for more than two years before putting in my notice this August. Before the pandemic, we had a full-time staff, many of whom had been there for years. Our schedules were pretty relaxed: We came in at 4 p.m. and left around 11 p.m.

Business picked up after the initial shutdown, but many of our staff didn’t return. People were constantly calling out and I was begging others to come in to work before I even arrived at the restaurant. Finding new employees proved to be difficult, and guests were less and less understanding when we ran out of ingredients.

I was working longer closing shifts from 3 p.m.to 12:30 a.m., which meant I hardly saw my two elementary-aged kids. My husband also works out of town for a few weeks each month, so we were paying more than $US500 ($AU679) a week to have a nanny watch our kids while we worked.

My company was one of the better restaurants to work for during 2020. They looked out for us by paying hourly staff during the shutdown, giving managers bonuses, and never cutting pay. But the job became more and more stressful and I knew I wasn’t being the wife, mother, and person I wanted to be.

I ended up giving more than a three-month notice because I felt so loyal to the company. I’m fortunate that my husband’s salary allowed me a little flexibility. I’ve had a YouTube Channel for nearly 10 years and other social media that I monetize in addition to a year-old small business making charcuterie boards for events and weddings. Monetarily, I still make as much as I did with a salary, just with less stress and more family time.