NaBloPoMo, Pandemic, Restaurants

The Service Industry Is Suffering

This past September, we were in Newport, Rhode Island for a wedding. The day of the wedding dawned sunny and bright, 70 degrees and no humidity. The perfect day to dine al fresco by the water if there ever was one.

Our group of six made out way up and down the wharfs until we came to a restaurant with a stellar outdoor patio, right alongside the water. AND, it was empty! This was like kismet because finding a spot to eat for 6 people was proving to be difficult.

We walked up to the host station. “Six please, for outside,” I said.

“I’m sorry,” the host said, “We don’t have any availability.”

Me: “But your entire patio is empty. Can’t we sit at one of those empty tables? Are they all reserved?”

“Reserved? No,” she said. “I just don’t have any waitstaff to work this area.”

And so it went, as we stopped at a few restaurants. They had open tables, but no one to work them.

Fast forward a month and a half to tonight. Mr. KK and I decide we’re going to do take out. The fact that we made this decision – and picked a place – in a relatively timely fashion was a miracle in itself. When it came time to order, Mr. KK took one for the team. I took the dogs out.

When I came back in, Mr. KK was still on the phone, holding muzak blaring from his phone. “I’m on hold,” he told me.

This went on for several minutes.

“Let me call, too,” I said, dialing from my cell phone. It rang and rang. No one even answered.

“It’s been 10 minutes,” Mr. KK told me, “and I’m still on hold.”

I called three separate times, and each time my call went unanswered. “They must be short staffed,” I said, hanging up. For the record, this was a Wednesday night. Not a busy Friday or Saturday.,

Just a day earlier, we read about a restaurant in a neighboring town that was closing because they couldn’t find a chef to hire. Imagine that, they couldn’t find someone to cook at the restaurant.

Last year was horrible for restaurants and staff; Mr. KK did what we could ordering from our local favorites when they had family meals and take out available. And here we are – a year later – and restaurants can’t staff their establishments.

This is so sad to me. And maybe it’s only happening in places that aren’t big cities where there are thousands of people who need/want a job. But in our small town, restaurants are on the verge of closing their doors (if they haven’t done so already).

Maybe it’s The Great Resignation. Maybe people don’t want to work in the restaurant biz anymore. But it seems that people don’t want to work anywhere anymore. I’m not going to lie, while I love my job, if I could retire tomorrow in a way that I was financially stable, I would do it in a heartbeat. Not because I don’t like to work, but because I could think of a million things I could be doing every day that aren’t work.

So what is going to happen to restaurants? I’m sure the popular and city ones will be fine. They will bounce back and have full reservations. But what about the other ones? The local bars, Nonna’s Italian place down the street, and the local pizza joint? What happens to them?

Even in cities like Boston, so many familiar, old-standby bars and restaurants have closed. College and 20-something favorites have shuttered their doors, leaving behind vacant buildings and memories.

So what’s going to happen? Restaurants just start closing down because they don’t have anyone to work? There are so many people out there looking for jobs, why can’t restaurants staff their establishments?

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