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?

Boston, getting old, NaBloPoMo, Restaurants

I’m too old to stand in line at a bar.

Once a year, my friend J and I arrange a girls’ weekend in Boston where we spend the weekend eating, drinking, catching up and shopping.

The weather Gods were in our favor this year, as we had gorgeous fall weather, low 50’s and sunny – perfect poncho weather.

Lunch was at Coppa Boston, where we sipped wine and enjoyed a gorgeous charcuterie platter of fennel salami, duck prosciutto and spicy soppressata, paired with nutty pecorino, creamy robiola and and sola cheeses; and meatballs and a celery caesar salad that was so crunchy and fresh, I have to try and recreate this dish at home.

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When J and I lived in Boston (15 years ago!) we both lived in South Boston (Southie, to those in the know). J lived on the nicely gentrified East Side, right on K Street near the famous L Street Tavern where Matt Damon and the Good Will Hunting gang used to hang out. I lived on the gritty west side off of West 5th Street, next to the park where Matt, Ben and others fought those kids on the basketball court.

Even though we lived on different sides of town, we both left before Southie became the trendy, up-and-coming area teeming with hipsters and millennials that it is today. So in an effort to relive our time living in the greatest city of all time, we decided to go to dinner in our old neighborhood.

“Wait until you see how Southie had changed,” I told her. “You won’t even recognize it.”

As our Uber driver, Wellington – whom we fondly referred to as Beef Wellington – took a left onto Albany Street, we both pressed our noses to the glass. What used to be dilapidated buildings and abandoned doorways, was now trendy gastro pubs, fromageries, and wine shops.

Whitey Bulger’s old haunt Triple O’s Lounge was now a rustic Italian cafe. Hole in the wall pizza joints were now chic taverns. And the old Mexican haunt with tabletops sticky from spilled margaritas was now a loud and hip sushi restaurant – and our destination for dinner.

Maybe it was eating at a restaurant where we the scene matched the food, or the hoards of youth on the sidewalks, but after dinner these two now-suburban moms were not ready to call it a night.

“Let’s go back to Broadway and go for a drink!” we thought who we were. And then we saw the lines at the bars. And then we realized who were weren’t.

We weren’t waiting in a line at a bar. Because we are OLD.

Both bars had lines so long, that it was doubtful that the kids – and they did look like kids – would ever see the inside of the place before dawn. And, not to go all MOM on the young ladies, but it was under 40 degrees, and the girls wore halter tops and mini skirts and no coats!

Don’t get me wrong, I still wait in lines. I’m just selective about the types of lines I’ll wait in.

I’ll wait in line to get into my favorite pizza place.

I’ll wait in line to get the latest beer released at a brewery.

But I won’t wait in line to get into a bar and pay inflated prices for cocktails and scream to be heard.

When we saw those lines, we looked at each other and a look passed between us, and in that brief moment we silently said to each other, “We have pajamas waiting for us in a hotel, with no spouses or kids and an entire bed to ourselves where we can lie down and watch HGTV uninterrupted until we fall asleep. So let’s leave these kids standing in line and high tail it back to our room.”

So we abandoned the line, hopped in an Uber and were in our jammies faster than you could say “millennial”.

To the young ones out there, waiting in lines at bars, enjoy it while you can.

And, for the love of God, WEAR A COAT!