The growth of the gig economy

And why noncommercial foodservice might be imperceptible to its charms.

chef iphone

Atop the rubble amassed by digital platforms such as Uber, Grubhub and Airbnb through their #disrupt innovations, a new labor market is gaining a foothold. The gig economy, also known as the shared or on-demand economy, leverages app-based technologies to match independent workers and customers. This new format for delivering goods and services has conducted such shockwaves throughout the economy that Labor Secretary Thomas Perez announced in January that a survey of this new segment of the workforce will be included in future Current Population Surveys.

In the U.S., 22 percent of adults already have used services within this economy, 7 percent of which is made up of food and goods delivery such as Postmates, Grubhub and Caviar, according to a Time magazine report. But any thoughts that hiring temporary noncommercial kitchen staff will be as easy as putting out the call on an app are dashed by more than a few holdups.

The technology

Perhaps the most obvious barrier to an on-demand shift is the lack of available technology. There is no app where independent foodservice workers and operators can form a temporary work contract, though sites like Thumbtack and Kitchensurfing connect consumers and employers with private chefs. Kitchensurfing goes beyond chefs, including front-of-house and back-of-house employees. However, there is not yet a noncommercial equivalent.

The worker

Though the demand may be there, a part-time, per diem or short-term contract foodservice employee is a tough position to hire for this way, says David Reeves, director of hospitality services at Elmhurst Memorial Healthcare in Elmhurst, Ill. He says healthcare foodservice employees want stability—they are not craving the tradeoff of uncertainty for flexibility. “They are looking for some set hours,” he says. “They want to be able to plan.”

Reeves employs about 10 per-diem staffers, but most did not answer a listing for part-time or on-call work. When retirees or interns are ready to leave the company, instead of taking them off the payroll, Reeves asks if they want to remain on an on-call basis, working a few times a month. “We then have no obligation to them, and they have no obligation to us,” he says. Most of his part-time, evening staff is made up of college students, but Reeves doesn’t think it’s uncommon for these workers to hold side jobs. “I think some have to do it just to make ends meet,” he says.

The work

The nature of foodservice makes it difficult for operators to rely on a temporary staff, says George Carrasquilla, resident services director at Providence Life Services, a senior living facility in Elmhurst, Ill. “I’ve been in foodservice for almost 30 years, and it’s very rare that I ever worked at a place that was going to use temporary agency,” says Carrasquilla. “It’s the last line of resort, because you are paying a lot more for somebody, and in a lot of cases, they’re not well trained. They certainly don’t know your policies and procedures. You are essentially just having them plug a hole temporarily.”

Hospitality, knowledge of food safety and background checks and drug tests also can keep out an on-demand workforce. Cyndi Roberts of St. Joseph Memorial Hospital in Murphysboro, Ill., says she can go a year without a response to a per-diem job listing. “The reality is, it’s difficult to find someone who is willing to be on-call,” she says. “It’s not an easy thing to do at this level of work.”

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