Prior to the pandemic, restaurant and food-service jobs in Pennsylvania accounted for 10% of employment in the state.
Two Franklin & Marshall College students are tracking how that industry has drastically changed over the past 20 months.
Senior Lily Nolan and junior Alysse Danyi are investigating how motivations, beliefs, perceptions and decisions of small-business owners have influenced labor dynamics during the pandemic.
“I really like how this project is qualitative-based. It's not like we're only analyzing numbers. We’re actually going out and talking to humans with real-world struggles,” said Nolan, a businesses, organizations & society (BOS) major.
Nolan and Danyi, along with Visiting Assistant Professor of Management Aleks Rebeka, spent five weeks in the summer analyzing secondary data on Lancaster County, conducting a literature review, and developing an interview guide. They also met with the The Economic Development Company of Lancaster County (EDC) to define ways in which the study could be helpful for the community.
From there, they narrowed their focus on Lancaster’s many restaurants.
“Now, we are interviewing restaurants in the County to better understand changes in operations, hiring, relationship with employees, competition and financial support,” Rebeka said.
Questions address decreased or increased labor needs, hiring practices, employee attitudes and motivations for seeking employment, and whether businesses relied on institutional support.
“I think being a business owner, a restaurant owner in general, is a high-pressure job” Nolan said. “So when you factor in the pandemic, you could tell these people really struggled. It felt good from an interviewer's perspective to give them that opportunity to talk about it because a lot of them feel like their voices haven't been heard,”
The trio plan to interview at least 30 restaurant owners. Collected data will be analyzed for emerging themes.
“I have wanted to work on research with a professor in some capacity since my first year at F&M because I have always been curious to learn more about the data-collection process in the real world and how to conduct a meaningful research study,” said Danyi, a BOS and public policy joint major and German and German studies major.
While interviews are still ongoing, a common motif is emerging: resilience and support.
“There seems to be a strong connectedness among small businesses in Lancaster County, whether by selling local products in their businesses, shopping or eating regularly at nearby businesses, or simply communicating support to one another,” Danyi said.
“I really like how this project is qualitative-based. It's not like we're only analyzing numbers. We’re actually going out and talking to humans with real-world struggles."