How the wealth gap between restaurant goers and their servers is​ widening

Andrea Gillette lined up the bottles of fruit-flavored cocktails behind the bar. The guy who leans a ladder against the big chalkboard to write out the day’s fresh fish selection had just about wrapped up.

Floors were swept, sliced lemons were crammed into a plastic bin, the trendy garage-door-style windows facing the shaded patio thrown open. Corey Ahrens brewed coffee.

Chip Kasper, the general manager, called out to the weekday crew at Fish City Grill, a bright, modern seafood restaurant at CityLine, a massive$1.5bndevelopment 20 miles north of downtown Dallas. Anchored by an almost 10,000-worker State Farm campus, CityLine also features a crop of buzzy fast-casual spots, a Whole Foods Market and a salon offering eyelash extension packages for upwards of $300.

It’s one of a handful of projects that have shifted the economic center of gravity of the nation’s fourth largest metro area; as a result, the northern suburbs of Dallas are some of the fastest-growing cities in the country.

“Got nine minutes to pre-shift!”

A little over a year ago, Fish City’s owner was worried this wasn’t going to happen.

In the roughly two decades since Bill Bayne and a partner opened Half Shells – the seed of what would become a chain of 20 restaurants – Bayne said he and his wife, who now own the Fish City company, have made a point to remember the names of workers at every level.

He takes pride in his ability to retain workers in an industry that sees high turnover. Still, as he prepared to open the chain’s outpost at CityLine he encountered an unanticipated hurdle.

He couldn’t find workers.

Bayne recalled sending his longtime kitchen manager, Frankie Argote, to “ride the rails” in search of people who looked like they might be cooks and to restaurants, where he asked managers whether they had employees who might be able to pick up more shifts. Argote recalled coming back and asking his boss, “Do we want to be cooking or serving?” Because he was struggling to find enough people to do both.

“This [location] has been probably the most challenging,” Bayne said.

As major corporate employers have swarmed places such as CityLine and the areas that surround them, a corresponding explosion of restaurants and bars has left business owners such as Bayne tapping into an almost-dry well of talent. Over the last five years, the number of jobs in food services and drinking places in the Dallas-Plano-Irving metropolitan division increased by 30.4%, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. That’s almost twice as fast as growth in those jobs nationally, which was 17.9% for the same time period.

But thanks to a range of factors, the fertile job-hunting fields north of Dallas are essentially off limits to many prospective workers.

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