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Server shortages

Server shortages

Old May 3, 21, 6:41 am
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Server shortages

I hope we can discuss this without getting all political. Probably not.

Lately, restaurants near me have been failing, cutting hours and restricting seating due to a shortage of help. We waited 30 minutes last night for a table. The place had a half full parking lot. But one side of the dining room was blocked off. This is not social distancing related, just a lack of employees to wait tables. Our server was running nonstop throughout our visit. I don’t know how many tables he covered but none got the attention they expected. The nearest restaurant to my home, a Beef O’Bradys that we patronized for takeout throughout the last year, has shut its doors. The word is that no one wanted to work there. Our local pizza parlor is quoting 3 hour delivery times because the owner is delivering after she closes the kitchen. She can’t get help except for her 2 young children.

I’m tempted to go back to work, not for the pay, but to keep some of these places open so we can continue to enjoy them. Is the age of restaurant dining over?
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Old May 3, 21, 8:48 am
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I agree there's no reason to make this political - although that seems to be everyone's default these days if you disagree with them. We should be able to look at the facts. I haven't observed the same issue, but of course restaurants here are only partially open.

The most interesting part of your post is "no one wanted to work there". The questions are why does no one want to work there, and is that the same at other restaurants in the area? Is it that one restaurant isn't a competitive employer, or is job supply higher than demand (or both)?

Ultimately, restaurants will find a way to give people what they want, both customers and employees. If one can't, someone else will figure it out and replace it. The beauty of a free market.
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Old May 3, 21, 9:30 am
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It's happening here in the Bay Area. Chronic staffing shortages both in the front and back of the house. And after several months of either closure or limited capacity, the restaurants don't have money to throw at the problem.

The restaurant revitalization credit opens today, and it's lucrative. Basically, its a grant equal to the difference between your 2019 and 2020 revenue, less any PPP funds received, subject to limitations. Big set asides for smaller businesses, and priority for historically disadvantaged folks. Hopefully, many businesses can avail of this, and use the cash infusion to attract and retain the requisite work force.
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Old May 3, 21, 9:39 am
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Originally Posted by work2fly View Post
Hopefully, many businesses can avail of this, and use the cash infusion to attract and retain the requisite work force.
I still go back to the "no one wants to work there" statement. Isn't a grant just temporary? What happens when it runs out?

Here's something else I've been thinking about. How have lunch restaurants fared? I'm talking about places that were near office buildings, corporate parks, or in downtowns. In downtown Chicago, there were literally hundreds of places that were open only for breakfast and lunch in the loop. With people working from home, and maybe many not going back into an office building full time, will they survive? It seems like a different dynamic than those places that mainly attract evening and weekend non-business customers.
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Old May 3, 21, 9:44 am
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Originally Posted by JBord View Post
I agree there's no reason to make this political - although that seems to be everyone's default these days if you disagree with them. We should be able to look at the facts. I haven't observed the same issue, but of course restaurants here are only partially open.

The most interesting part of your post is "no one wanted to work there". The questions are why does no one want to work there, and is that the same at other restaurants in the area? Is it that one restaurant isn't a competitive employer, or is job supply higher than demand (or both)?

Ultimately, restaurants will find a way to give people what they want, both customers and employees. If one can't, someone else will figure it out and replace it. The beauty of a free market.
For many, they found it was more lucrative to collect unemployment with the pandemic funds, as opposed to work with restricted capacity.

Originally Posted by JBord View Post
I still go back to the "no one wants to work there" statement. Isn't a grant just temporary? What happens when it runs out?

Here's something else I've been thinking about. How have lunch restaurants fared? I'm talking about places that were near office buildings, corporate parks, or in downtowns. In downtown Chicago, there were literally hundreds of places that were open only for breakfast and lunch in the loop. With people working from home, and maybe many not going back into an office building full time, will they survive? It seems like a different dynamic than those places that mainly attract evening and weekend non-business customers.
There's a local chain in my area that was primarily a lunch restaurant. They served soup, salads, and sandwiches, and most of their business came from the lunch crowd. They offered numerous catering packages for office lunches. Most of their locations have closed.

Last edited by iluv2fly; May 8, 21 at 2:29 am Reason: merge
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Old May 3, 21, 9:53 am
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Before this crisis of the past year, there was already a (purported) employee shortage which restaurant owners complaining they actually having to work front line (as, IMO, they should). That was for fast food (part of the reason was teens who would once work are now doing stuff that will help improve chances of college/university admission). As for finer dining, it certainly was where I am (acute kitchen staff shortage in specific). Neighbouring very popular tourism city reportedly had more people leaving the trade than joining (something like 4 leaving for every 3 joining). Again, all this dates back much further than a year ago.

My solution is to offer a more streamlined table service with a lot less fussing (French style if you will) and simplified (or at least abbreiviated) menu and not try to cater for everyone's tastes and peculiarities. It may well be a case of over-restauranting and not enough supply of staff. Is the economy where you are so hot that no one wants restaurant jobs?

Originally Posted by kipper View Post
For many, they found it was more lucrative to collect unemployment with the pandemic funds, as opposed to work with restricted capacity.
That' what may in the old fogey RV crowd are saying.

Some may be wealthy but they live a very different life from most FTers. Below is their discussion.

https://www.irv2.com/forums/f64/work...ue-532856.html

On that subject, the great recession of '08 resulted in complete RV assembly closures and bankruptcies. Many of the skilled workforce (or as skilled as the could be) left and never came back. The quality of the workforce hired to replace them apparently leaves a lot to be desired. Quality of assembly in the past decade+ is reportedly nightmarish for new owners, let alone used.
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Last edited by iluv2fly; May 8, 21 at 2:30 am Reason: merge
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Old May 3, 21, 9:56 am
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This is a multi-fold problem, and some of it is inherently political. And some is just basic economics.

I have some friends that own a local eatery - mid-scale, local gathering place, decent food and a good bar, and they've thrown in the towel. When we last spoke, they were describing the out of pocket costs just to reopen including restocking the food supply, hiring and paying staff with very limited receipts at first startup - they decided they didn't want to go back into debt for this. The $ involved really surprised me, and they weren't exaggerating.

The restaurant industry was already on the verge of collapse, pre-COVID. COVID just sped up Restaurant Darwinism with respect to quite a number of places that won't reopen.

Staff that might want to work in restaurants just can't afford to. Between limited service hours and limited capacity, the net take home pay might not even cover basic expenses. In places with the tipped minimum wage, it is probably even worse. In the SF Bay Area, public transit remains severely curtailed - frequency and hours. Many restaurant workers commute from substantial distances - and now can't even work a dinner shift and take BART home. And then there's a child care component for some.

And the restaurants, for the most part, don't have another dime to contribute to wages. I hope the credit that ... mentions above makes a substantial dent in keeping some of the industry afloat during this recovery period.
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Old May 3, 21, 10:20 am
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Originally Posted by kipper View Post
For many, they found it was more lucrative to collect unemployment with the pandemic funds, as opposed to work with restricted capacity.
Definitely. I have a good friend, not in the restaurant business, who was laid off because of COVID about a year ago. He was doing in-person, traveling sales. Obviously that wasn't happening, and they didn't need as much staff working from home. He didn't look for a job for quite a while, because with the increased unemployment, and his wife still working, they were actually doing pretty well. There was no real incentive to look for a job until it ran out.

Originally Posted by Eastbay1K View Post
This is a multi-fold problem, and some of it is inherently political. And some is just basic economics.

I have some friends that own a local eatery - mid-scale, local gathering place, decent food and a good bar, and they've thrown in the towel. When we last spoke, they were describing the out of pocket costs just to reopen including restocking the food supply, hiring and paying staff with very limited receipts at first startup - they decided they didn't want to go back into debt for this. The $ involved really surprised me, and they weren't exaggerating.

The restaurant industry was already on the verge of collapse, pre-COVID. COVID just sped up Restaurant Darwinism with respect to quite a number of places that won't reopen.

Staff that might want to work in restaurants just can't afford to. Between limited service hours and limited capacity, the net take home pay might not even cover basic expenses. In places with the tipped minimum wage, it is probably even worse. In the SF Bay Area, public transit remains severely curtailed - frequency and hours. Many restaurant workers commute from substantial distances - and now can't even work a dinner shift and take BART home. And then there's a child care component for some.

And the restaurants, for the most part, don't have another dime to contribute to wages. I hope the credit that ... mentions above makes a substantial dent in keeping some of the industry afloat during this recovery period.
Other than the BART closures, all of your very good points are economics, not politics. I think the reality is that restaurant demand has decreased, and the economics don't make sense in many cases now - for either the restaurant or the employees. Even the "politics" like minimum wage changes are truly more about economics than politics. Some restaurants can manage, financially, to the changes and some can't. I think a credit to get restaurants fully reopened makes a lot of sense, because closure was forced upon them - politicians interfered to close them, they can interfere to re-open them, it's fair. After that, maybe the best thing we can do for the industry is let the free market run it's course without any more interference.
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Old May 3, 21, 10:31 am
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It's a real thing. My family owns restaurants and many locations are take-out only because they can't find enough employees to staff the dining rooms. They're citing two reasons: generous covid unemployment and the anti-immigration policies of the Trump administration.
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Old May 3, 21, 11:03 am
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My family used to own a home in northern Michigan on Little Traverse Bay. It is a vacation destination where the population grows significantly with the arrival of people who have summer houses or just want a vacation in the area. For years, a number of the larger establishments brought in servers and others in the hospitality industry from Jamaica in particular, because they could not find local staff for the season. I can't remember what the visa type is, but a lot of larger restaurant groups and hotels seem to use it when there are local staffing shortages.
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Old May 3, 21, 12:48 pm
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Originally Posted by chgoeditor View Post
My family used to own a home in northern Michigan on Little Traverse Bay. It is a vacation destination where the population grows significantly with the arrival of people who have summer houses or just want a vacation in the area. For years, a number of the larger establishments brought in servers and others in the hospitality industry from Jamaica in particular, because they could not find local staff for the season. I can't remember what the visa type is, but a lot of larger restaurant groups and hotels seem to use it when there are local staffing shortages.
I think it's probably the H2B visa for hospitality workers. As someone stated above, when millions of people became unemployed during the start of the pandemic, the prior administration put a freeze on these visas - I believe it was frozen in summer 2020, maybe limited somewhat before that. By law, H2B visas can only be offered if there are no qualified US workers available for the job. So it kind of made sense with all the hospitality workers that lost their jobs then. It's probably a bit of a moot point right now, as most US borders are still "closed" anyway because of COVID. And then of course the enhanced unemployment benefits contribute to US workers not applying for these jobs. At this point, with things re-opening, it likely makes sense to end any COVID benefits and restart the H2B program. Maybe both have been done already...I'll admit I haven't paid close attention. Just what I recall from last year.
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Old May 3, 21, 1:05 pm
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Originally Posted by JBord View Post
. At this point, with things re-opening, it likely makes sense to end any COVID benefits and restart the H2B program.
Originally Posted by justforfun View Post
. They're citing two reasons: generous covid unemployment and the anti-immigration policies of the Trump administration.
And then the nativists will (restart) their complaints that they can't understand a word that their servers are saying.
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Old May 3, 21, 1:24 pm
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Originally Posted by YVR Cockroach View Post
And then the nativists will (restart) their complaints that they can't understand a word that their servers are saying.
I don't consider myself a nativist, but I do get annoyed when someone directly serving the public is unable to communicate with me. I don't often find that to be the case with servers, but I do have other examples. A nativist would say they shouldn't be allowed to work here. To me, it's more about doing a job you have the skills for, and communication is a job skill for many front line jobs.
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Old May 3, 21, 1:39 pm
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Originally Posted by JBord View Post
I don't consider myself a nativist, but I do get annoyed when someone directly serving the public is unable to communicate with me. I don't often find that to be the case with servers, but I do have other examples. A nativist would say they shouldn't be allowed to work here. To me, it's more about doing a job you have the skills for, and communication is a job skill for many front line jobs.
Can't get the workers with the desired skill set for that kind of employment, essentially, at the wages and conditions offered. There are workers with the skill but it's just not worth their while for the pay and work conditions. I've heard some native U.S.-ians who I have to say I could not understand a word they said (presumably some regional accent), not to mention the other skills.

Canada had a non-agriculture temporary worker programme (TFW) akin to the H-2B until a few (or more than a few) years ago. Restaurant owners then (and still now) were complaining that they couldn't find any workers domestically. The reply from some economists was that they couldn't find any workers, at the wages they were willing to pay. That programme has been long scrapped (it reduced worker mobility as workers were tied to the employer) in favour of further increasing immigration amounting to some 1% of the population per annum. These workers are able to find employment better than what restaurants are offering so still a shortage.

My other solution. Conscript the college-bound to a year or two of poorly-remunerated servitude. This could also provide the hotel crew for U.S.-flagged cruise ships.
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Old May 3, 21, 1:48 pm
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Originally Posted by YVR Cockroach View Post
Can't get the workers with the desired skill set for that kind of employment, essentially, at the wages and conditions offered. There are workers with the skill but it's just not worth their while for the pay and work conditions. I've heard some native U.S.-ians who I have to say I could not understand a word they said (presumably some regional accent), not to mention the other skills.
Yes, this is all fine. All I'm saying is that if I can't understand someone who is providing me service, I'm likely to complain about it, and I'm less likely to bring my business back. I'm struggling with this currently, with a non-restaurant service provider. We've used pictures, Google translate, etc. It's not a great experience, and I'm complaining about it and if someone were to ask me who I used for the service, I would give a warning. Just because someone complains about it doesn't make them a nativist.
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