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Still Hiring: Cape Restaurants Struggle to Find Help Amid Busy Summer Season

U.S. Dept. of Commerce

Cape restaurants and businesses have been swamped with customers this summer, now that pandemic restrictions have eased in many places. But some business owners say they're still struggling to hire enough workers.

CAI's Kathryn Eident checked in with Blane Toedt, co-owner of The West End in Hyannis, to hear how the middle of the summer is going at his restaurant. They first talked in May, right before the Memorial Day holiday.

Eident So glad to be able to check in with you again, because when we talked last, it was at the beginning of the season right before the Memorial Day holiday. So now we've had two big holidays. We're well into summer. And I wanted to know how it's been going at the West End.

Toedt It's been going great. We are doing the same numbers that we were doing back in 2019--busier. And it's obvious that the Cape is in full swing.

Eident Well, that's great to hear. I wanted to talk a little bit about staffing, which you and I talked about at Memorial Day weekend. It's been difficult to find workers. Have you been able to staff up as much as you need to?

Toedt We have enough staff to accommodate the demand that we've had thus far.

Now, the patio last year was a huge hit. It was very well taken advantage of. This year, we have used it sporadically, however, the majority of our dining has been inside. We've only opened the patio a couple of times. And outside of that, our dining has been in our main dining room, our lounge, our parlor area and the bar area. So, with the opening of the Melody Tent, we are preparing to be open in every room now.

And to answer your question, we're a little concerned about our current staff level and the ability for us to accommodate a full restaurant. It's certainly something that we've been trying to figure out how are we going to accomplish. Because as it stands today, we definitely have a shortage of of staff compared to what we would like to have.

It's a huge change for us coming because with the opening of the Melody Tent, we are going to be potentially doubling our capacity. We're going from what we would say, half restaurant to full restaurant with a patio and the garden room being open for a Melody Tent show. So, as you know, the Melody Tent is very well attended. And, those guests know that there is a restaurant here.

Eident The Melody Tent is basically right across the street from The West End in Hyannis and is a concert and entertainment venue that runs mainly in the summer. Also, Blaine, just remind us, how many seats does The West End have? And in a typical, let's say, a more normal year, how many staff do you usually have?

Toedt We've got about 300 for capacity inside and about another 100 for capacity outside. So that's a total of 400. When we do open that, if we continue with the staff we have, we're going to be at about 65 to 70 percent of the staffing level that we would need for all of those tables and chairs.

[With that being said, we're going to do everything we can to put people in the right places, make sure that we're only allowing a certain amount of guests per time slot in certain areas. And, we're just going to have to manage those reservations and requests the best that we can and hope that people understand. If we get to a point where we can't accommodate, even though there might be seemingly open tables or "Look, there's a spot over there," we just don't have the infrastructure and the staff to accommodate all of the food and beverage demands.

Eident It sounds like you've really had to think about strategy and evolve that strategy. Was it a surprise to see, for instance, that more people are preferring to come inside the restaurant?

Toedt Very surprising. Yeah. So surprising, in fact, that almost in disbelief that we're doing more numbers inside this year than we were doing outside last year. The capacity last year on the patio, we exceeded the capacity and we actually had to come inside to our garden room area, which has high ceilings and lots of fresh air. Those two rooms in combination, we felt like, "this is busy. We're really pushing the envelope here."

And, this year we're inside 100 percent and we're doing more than we were last year. But we're hoping that more staff show up. And, that's been the biggest challenge is just, like we talked about earlier this year, that that hasn't changed tremendously.

Eident We've been hearing a lot more stories this summer around the region and elsewhere about, I'm going to say, patrons behaving badly in restaurants and shops and things like that. Has that been an issue for your staff?

Toedt It has been an issue at times. And all in all, I'd say that our guests are wonderful. And every once in a while you get somebody who's maybe having an off day and we might be having an off day as well. And those two off days just happened to meet in the middle. And you're ending up with a situation that you weren't looking forward to. But they do happen. And, you know, we're just trying to get better about managing them.

Eident Are you seeing mask use, are your staff using masks like they were at the beginning, or is that becoming a thing of the past?

Toedt There's been a small percentage of guests who arrive in masks and decide to stay in masks throughout their experience here, which we've applauded and supported.

We haven't changed our protocol for staff. If you feel comfortable wearing a mask and you'd like to wear a mask, we support that. If you're vaccinated and you don't want to wear a mask, then you're welcome to not wear a mask. Whatever the state is allowing or disallowing, we've really just been following those measures and making sure that we're in line with that.

Eident Well, it sounds like on the whole, given how unusual this summer is, that things are going well. And, another big hurdle for you is with the Melody Tent. Can we check in with you after Labor Day?

Toedt I hope you would. It would be an interesting report after Labor Day. We have this thing that we call "August-itis." And it's when [laughs] everyone's they've been working long hours and it's been hot and humid, and the work seems endless and thankless. And you just keep going and going and going. We've arrived early at August-itis this year. We're weeks early. So,

August is going to be the most challenging month yet, not only because of everyone has been overworked, but now in addition to that, we're going to have an influx in business and we're not going to be able to talk anybody off the ledge, so to speak. It's going to be, "we need you more than we need to you in July, more than we need to do in June. And not only that, it's not over in September."

So, I'm really hoping that the workforce changes sooner than later. And we can get some fresh staff in here that have fresh eyes and fresh legs and they're ready to go and they can support the staff that have been here since day one, grinding it out. It's going to be a huge help.

Eident Blaine, best of luck and I look forward to catching up with you at the end of the summer.

Toedt Likewise, I look forward to talking to you then.

This transcript was lightly edited for grammar and clarity.

Listen to Kathryn and Blaine's first discussion about The West End's summer season here.

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Kathryn Eident was the Morning Edition Host and Senior Producer of News until November 2022.