Restaurants throughout the country are desperately seeking staff, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the seasonal restaurants. Last year, RNN looked at the challenges of hiring in seasonal restaurants in a time of Covid. Now, despite a new administration, a vaccine, and what some estimate as 100,000 fewer restaurants competing for talent, things appear worse than ever.
There have been many hurdles to hiring this year, be it foreign or domestic workers. President Biden recently increased the HB-2 seasonal worker visas from 66,000 to 88,000 - but lawmakers from New England and other regions that rely on the visas for tourism, landscaping, forestry, fish processing, and other seasonal trades say that's still inadequate.
“That’s infinitesimal. It isn't anywhere close to the need,” said Congressman Bill Keating, a Democrat representing Cape Cod.
On Martha's Vineyard, these issues are compounded by a lack of affordable housing. The point of these seasonal jobs is the hope that one can work for a matter of months, and have money to carry you through the school year or to return to your home country with more money than you could make if you stayed. When you're spending the whole paycheck on rent it's really not worth it.
Even with the increase of visas, some are finding it difficult if not impossible to process the paperwork to get into the county, as many U.S. consulates have had to shut down as the pandemic has shrunk their staffing levels.
Coupled with that, the National Restaurant Association is saying are 2 million fewer 16-34-year-olds in the labor market, a demographic which makes up most of the restaurant industry.
Speaking with RNN about the recent release of their Food Service Worker’s Report, JobCase Executive Creative Director Matthew Ireland said: “There’s this mismatch, this whole idea ton of jobs but no momentum to fill them, despite relatively high unemployment... Metros are interesting. It's hard to make a call - there's no obvious trend. In the states that opened earlier, I thought Texas, for example, would be stronger and it was, but Florida was down in contrast. Generally there has been a dip, a trend line down since the stimulus came out, and that seems to be changing demand across all industries, including beyond food service.”
Restaurants have found themselves looking for ways to incentivize people to just apply.
Many are blaming the problem on high unemployment benefits - but the reality is a bit more complex. With so many restaurants closing their doors in 2020, many laid-off food service workers who were receiving unemployment had the freedom to take classes and pivot to a new career which often - unlike hospitality - can be done partly if not entirely from home. In addition: immigration, as mentioned above, continues to strangle the pipeline of available workers.
We spoke to a chain coffee shop manager in an area with a predominantly summer tourism-based economy, and they were trying to increase staff by 30% for the summer. With warmer weather coming in quickly, and a lack of applicants they have had to cut some services. They have on many occasions had to lock the doors, opting for drive-through only, and had to stop all online ordering. Moves like this may help in the short term but can make customers look elsewhere for that afternoon caffeine fix.
So what's a hiring manager to do?
Many businesses have turned to some interesting recruitment tactics.
In New Hampshire's White Mountains, Santa's Village - a Christmas-themed amusement park - is offering college students free housing and utilities for the summer months.
Some are offering to share employees who work opposite hours. So if you work breakfast at restaurant A, you work lunch or dinner at restaurant B (which leaves one to wonder how many hours someone is expected to work before they fall down).
One McDonalds franchise in Florida is offering people $50 to simply show up for an interview and is still not able to fill its needs. The owner of the 60 franchise locations claims this is the most difficult recruiting since the 90s.
Pizzeria Uno’s CEO is offering $50 to get vaccinated and a $300 bonus to any employee who refers anyone who lasts 30 days.
Chipotle is offering free tuition after 4 months for anyone seeking a degree in agriculture, culinary, or hospitality.
In a move that forced one restaurant to make a public apology, The Chatham Bars Inn on Cape Cod was called out for going to other establishments and handing out cards to servers, with a sign-on bonus on offer for anyone who jumped ship to join them. In a close-knit restaurant community like Cape Cad, this infuriated the establishments that where the attempted poaching took place. This prompted Chatham Bars Inn to make a social media statement claiming they only meant if servers wanted a second job.
The problems in restaurants are not just in the U.S. According to The Guardian, many of the UKs restaurants are extremely short-staffed. Many there are blaming Brexit, as 30% of hospitality workers in the UK come from what is now a separated European Union. This is forcing UK restaurants to offer hugely inflated wages for relatively low-level positions.
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