The restaurant staffing shortage is showing no signs of slowing down. Restaurants across the country are being forced to shutter or reducing hours because they simply can’t hold onto enough employees to operate. A new app, Qwick, is partnering with restaurants across the country to fill those gaps in staffing to help keep restaurants afloat.
Qwick is an on-demand service that “connects food and beverage professionals to shifts in real time,” essentially acting as a place where restaurants can post open shifts and restaurant workers can pick them up. The postings can be for anything from an event chef or a line cook to a bartender or server and can be posted within a day or even weeks of when it needs to be filled.
Right now the app is only available in limited cities—11 major cities currently use the app with 12 more launching it soon. Users looking to pick up shifts need to complete a profile and prove to have experience in certain roles, completing an orientation and providing certificates when necessary. As you go you receive a QwickScore, essentially a star rating for workers. Users with higher star ratings will be sent more shifts as soon as they’re listed.
If the app is successful and shifts actually are frequently picked up, this model can save restaurants a lot of headache during a continuing staffing shortage without putting stress on staffers who may be feeling pressure to come in even when feeling sick. This also gives restaurants a larger talent pool to pull from—not every talented worker wants to come on full time, but sometimes those are the only positions available. In theory, this also minimizes time spent training employees.
For workers, it offers the opportunity for flexibility that is not always possible in the restaurant industry. Especially for those who may have other gigs or who have since left the restaurant industry for another career but still want to make some extra money, it’s easy to see the appeal. And the payment system also favors those looking to make a quick buck: Once you’ve set up your account the payment for any shift you work gets sent out the next day.
There’s also the ability to explore other work environments. Maybe a restaurant does have an open slot and you want to try it out first to see if it’s the right fit. Maybe you just want to build community with other industry folks you might not otherwise get the chance to work with. Maybe you just can’t be tied down to one spot and want to dip in and out of them all. With this app, that’s theoretically possible.
If this app becomes more widely adopted, it could threaten the concept of a permanent restaurant staff. Since Qwick allows a restaurant to secure workers without needing to cover potential benefits or other costs and incentives associated with retaining a full-time staff, this might seem like an attractive option to restaurant owners for all the wrong reasons.
When workers are rotating in and out of a single kitchen daily, what’s lost is any institutional knowledge within the restaurant, which can create a disconnect between the establishment and its patrons. The concept of being a regular goes out the window if no one at the restaurant is there frequently enough to recognize how often certain guests come in. And there’s also the repetitive labor that goes into retraining new staffers every single day.
For workers, no shift is guaranteed. If restaurant work is your main source of income, this system can be unreliable. While Qwick’s fast payments are a plus, you’re technically registered as a freelance worker, filling out 1099 forms for tax purposes. This means extra work tracking taxes that are due later—take it from a former freelancer who is still paying off taxes from 2014.
And the star rating system within the Qwick app can be easily flawed. Everything from personal differences to user error can result in a worker getting a dramatically low score that could ruin their ability to pick up any shifts at all.
I applaud any efforts to change the way we think about restaurant work, and certainly want small businesses to combat staffing shortages any way they can. But app-based, on-demand staffing, while novel in some ways, can’t be the only permanent solution. If anything, the very invention of Qwick proves that we need to work harder to make restaurant work more sustainable for more people.