Local Restaurants Looking for Workers as Busy Summer Season Approaches
Memorial Day weekend is upon us, and hotel managers, souvenir shop owners and restauranteurs are getting ready for the beginning of the summer crush of visitors.
Restaurants have had to be especially flexible over the last 18 months, as COVID-related restrictions have been implemented, revamped and as of Saturday, May 29, rescinded.
CAI's Kathryn Eident talked with Blane Toedt of the West End in Hyannis, about how his nearly 300-seat restaurant has been dealing with it all.
Eident By all accounts, it's looking like it's going to be a really busy summer, is the West End ready?
Toedt (laughs) We're ready. You know, the restaurant itself is is primed, but there is obviously the big topic of a shortage of staff. And, I'm not going to deny that that's a real thing. So, while I say the restaurant is ready, there is certainly a shortage of help out there right now.
Eident In a typical summer, how many staff do you retain, versus what you are looking at for staffing as we head into this summer?
Toedt In general, if you're including everybody, I'm probably looking at a cumulative staff at approximately 70 staff members, part-time, full-time. And, right now we're just about and half of that, we've got about 32 to be exact, staff members. And, those people are working basically every shift.
You know, we won't be able to accommodate seven days a week with that level of staff. We don't have half-staff for lack of effort. It's not as if we're just not advertising, or for that matter, any other restaurant isn’t advertising. We talked with a lot of friends who are restaurant industry folk and everybody—everybody—is saying that they are having the same exact issues. So, it's kind of scary. I'm curious myself how it's going to unfold and when people are going to be available to work again.
Eident It's one thing at the beginning of the summer season when people come back and are fresh and are willing to take on those double shifts and work those long hours. But, that's the beginning of this season. You've got to make it all the way through into what looks like is going to be a busy shoulder season. So, does that mean you have contingency plans?
Toedt Yes. So, the hours being reduced is a really good way to manage the flow. You know, our restaurant is large, we have multiple dining rooms, so managing dining rooms that are open will be important. It's going to be challenging.
And you're so right, at the beginning of the season, everyone's ready to go. They're rested. They're amped because it's time to get back to what they're passionate about. But, those long 12-hour days, those doubles, will grind you right down. So, it won't be long before those people are very tired, and their threshold is less and they're less patient. And, that is not what we want. We're service professionals. We want our guests to feel special. Not that, "Jeez, they have got a small menu." And, "How come we can't sit right now? I see an open table over there. Why can't we just sit there?" Trying to explain these things to the general public is very difficult.
Eident Have you considered any benefits to try to get people to come in the door and get on your staff?
Toedt Yeah, we've talked about that. You know, one of the things that we don't want to do is—the last thing we want to do is take an employee from another restaurant that's local that is having the same exact problems we are. So, we're worried if we did something like that, that would just incentivize people who are close to home. The problem is that the people who aren't employed aren't going back to work. And, I don't think that those types of incentives would get them to come back to work.
Eident Are there any food supply chain issues still that might impact what you serve this summer?
Toedt The supply chain for food products, that issue seems to have been somewhat remedied, but the menu size would be considered based on how many people we have in the kitchen versus how many seats we have available in the dining room. So, you know, a more elaborate menu where some of your entrees and appetizers require multiple steps to pick up and put on a plate and get out to the dining room, if you don't have the people to do the jobs, you really got to trim it back and kind of simplify so that these things can happen quicker and more efficiently.
We've definitely had issues with like furniture, outdoor tables, outdoor seats; all of that stuff that you need right now is very unavailable. If we ordered some of the stuff, by the time we actually got it, it would be the end of the season.
Restaurants require an immense amount of maintenance and electricians and plumbers and contractors, those people, they're so busy, it's really hard to get those maintenance contractors in to make sure that all your systems are running at full capacity, which is equally as important as food chain supplies. Lots of moving parts that need to be considered when you're thinking about how to operate efficiently.
Eident Earlier in the pandemic, when everyone had to pivot and embraced outdoor seating like never before, the West End also got a tent and had outdoor seating. Do you plan to continue to have that model for people?
Toedt Absolutely. Without question. It saved us last year. We definitely need to keep it; it's going to be something that guests will continue to request and appreciate. If outdoor seating is available, it would be preferred.
Eident What else have you had to think about, or modify, as we head into a really busy summer season?
Toedt Yeah, you know, the thing that we talk about the most right now is that there's going to be a very wide spectrum of expectations. And just because they're lifting restrictions, doesn't mean that everyone feels comfortable. So, we're now preparing for many different requests. We've been telling our staff, if you want to wear a mask, you're more than welcome to wear a mask. If you don't want to wear a mask, then you don't have to wear a mask. If your guests request that you wear a mask, we suggest that you have a mask on you to make your guests feel comfortable. I mean, there's just so many different options now. So, we're just trying to prepare for what's everybody going to want.
Eident Do you expect people to be more demanding this year? Do you think people will be more courteous and understanding, seeing as we all had to lock down and we're living with uncertainty for so long?
Toedt That's the big question. We're going to be listening to the guests, but we also ask that the guests are patient. It's going to be tricky for sure. There's no question about that.
Eident Blane Toedt, co-owner of the West End Restaurant in Hyannis, thanks for talking with us. Best of luck this summer.
Toedt Thank you very much. Appreciate you. And best of luck to you this summer.
This transcript has been lightly edited for grammar and clarity.