Nobody wants to work: Hospitality industry deals with worker shortage
Restrictions are scheduled to be loosened this weekend for restaurants and other entertainment venues.
According to many local hospitality professionals, the upcoming months will be challenging across the industry.
There’s a major consensus on the problem: Nobody wants to work.
“I wouldn’t say Carbon County is impacted as much as let’s say Monroe County,” said Sam Hellen, site administrator of the PA CareerLink Carbon County.
“They’re going to have a lot more need up there with all of the resorts. We are working out some solutions. But it’s looking more and more difficult as it gets closer to summer.”
Chris Barrett, president/CEO at the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau, said many factors are causing the worker shortage.
“I think No. 1, there was fear that someone would contract it (COVID-19), even though the mitigation was very, very well and our members were diligent about mitigation,” Barrett said.
“But I think the other point is, too, with the additional pandemic payment and unemployment, I think the incentives are working in reverse. We definitely hear that is a part of it. You can understand why they did it - there are people that really need it and are out of work, but it’s kind of damaging us right now in some ways.”
The Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau has 400 paid members from four counties - Carbon, Monroe, Wayne and Pike, which covers 2,400 square miles. Most members are related to hospitality and tourism.
Barrett said across the bureau’s territory, they host 30 million annual guests, who spend $4.2 billion a year directly. In the area, Barrett said they employ a total of 35,000 people in those four counties.
“There’s also a housing issue,” Barrett said. “There are a lot of houses being converted to short-term rentals - there is a need for housing. I think it’s a multiplicity of things right now that is adding to this. I don’t think we’re going to really see any relief until September when this recovery package expires.”
As more restaurants and venues welcome more consumers across the commonwealth this weekend, lines and wait times can be expected.
“I can’t get anybody to walk in the door (to work),” said Chip Solt, owner of Joey B’s Bar and Restaurant in Palmerton.
“The government keeps giving people $300 a week on top of their unemployment, plus they’re giving them stimulus, what is their incentive to get off their couch? We’re going to deal with this until September.”
Solt said he talked to many local restaurant owners and managers who have the same employment issues.
“It’s not just me, I certainly don’t want to make it a Joey B’s thing. It’s far bigger than that,” Solt added.
“The staff that is working now is getting killed, that’s our biggest problem - and the staff that we have working now is phenomenal.
“But it doesn’t give the customer a right to come in and scream at them if they’re having a bad day. I tell people all the time, if you yell at my employees, I’ll throw you out.”
Solt said over the past six months, in regard to cooking and kitchen jobs, he had only four prospective employees show up for a job interview.
Mike Tirko, general manager of Roadies Restaurant and Bar in Jim Thorpe, said it’s like pulling teeth to get applicants or interviews.
“We’ve been lucky up here, we retained a lot of the staff that’s been here,” Tirko said. “But hiring new staff - a majority of our business is in the summer with the deck and the view. We are trying to staff up here. We’re doing ads on Facebook, Indeed, referral bonuses and I’ve even been reaching out to school districts.”
Tirko took over the GM job at Roadies only two weeks before the pandemic started. He has also heard recent stories of many consumers being unkind to servers and restaurant employees.
“We obviously want to make everyone’s experience enjoyable,” Tirko said. “But the other end of that sword is the staffing crisis at this time. I’ve talked to other people that have been in the business for many years, and they said they’ve never seen it like this. Even increased wages aren’t helping.”
It’s the same story in Schuylkill County.
Savas Logothetides is the owner and operator of both Wheel Restaurant locations in Tamaqua and Pottsville. He agreed that many circumstances have made it difficult to find quality employees right now.
“A lot of legislation that was passed regarding unemployment, coupled with the public nature of our business, has made staffing restaurants challenging,” Logothetides said.
“It has been a focus of our management teams, so that we can continue to provide the highest quality of food, service and atmosphere.”
For those interesting in working locally, Barrett said a four-countywide job fair is in the works for May 13. Many local chambers are involved, and Barrett said it will all be tied together to a job portal on the bureau’s website. And if you’re interested in working at Joey B’s, Solt said to stop at the restaurant and fill out an application any time.
“We’re hearing it’s every industry; every industry is struggling,” Barrett said. “It’s a matter of that they can’t find employees to work. It’s sad, but true.”