Local Restauranteur Looks Ahead to Shoulder Season After Another Unusual Summer
The Cape and Islands are now well into what many call the "shoulder season" — a period with more bus tours and weekend visitors — but in general, a less busy time than during the summer months. This season, of course, is punctuated with the ongoing pandemic and a staffing shortage.
We've been following one local restaurant since Memorial Day to learn more about this unusual tourist season and its impacts.
CAI's Kathryn Eident checked in one final time with The West End co-owner Blane Toedt about how the summer wound down for him, and what he expects at his Hyannis restaurant this fall.
Eident Well, Blane, we've made it. Labor Day has come and gone and we're in the shoulder season now. How was the long weekend for you at the West End?
Toedt It was refreshing. It was really nice to be in Labor Day weekend. And as you know, in the seasonal community like we are in Cape Cod, that's a benchmark for us. We're always looking forward to that because it's sort of a first indication of a little reprieve from being extremely busy. Everyone gets to take a little break and get ready for what's to come this fall.
Eident In our earlier conversations, we talked about hiring challenges. And, when we talked after the Fourth of July specifically, you talked about how you would staff the restaurant, which I should mention, seats something like 400 people, with this added crush of customers coming over from across the street at the Melody Tent in Hyannis. How did that balancing act go for you with the demand and your staffing?
Toedt It went great. We just learned how to operate with the shortages. To be honest, we weren't able to staff up like we needed to. You know, we got better.
It was kind of like working out, you know, you don't know what to expect from the work out until you've done in the few times. And then you get a little bit better at it, and you get a little bit stronger and you can do more. And, that's kind of what happened.
You know, it was just an organic experiment of restauranting. It was just...it was simple, and our staff, they're amazing. It was the same group of staff members, Melody Tent show, after Melody Tent show, after Melody Tent show. And, they really stepped it up and got great. And we were able to do as much as I think the Melody Tent showgoers were expecting. We didn't have to turn many people away. There were shows that were busier than others—that certainly put a more of stress on the restaurant. But again, I would say, all in all, very pleased with our staff and what we were able to execute during the summer season.
Eident Well, it's interesting to hear that, too, because you and I talked about what some of us know as August-itis where, you know, you're just going, going, going and going, you're making great money, but it's a lot of work. And suddenly, you hit this burnout. And, you were a little worried about that and you were talking about needing a strategy, but that seemed to not be as big an issue?
Toedt Well, I mean, the short answer is it was an issue, and the long answer is it was again, you think about the day of the week that the Melody Tent show is on. Was it a consecutive show, or was it the second consecutive, or third consecutive? I mean, there were lots of circumstances that played into how those shifts went. And, that was the logistical part which we would have to do in-house to schedule people appropriately. And, we needed to make sure everyone's getting a break in there and we would plan appropriately for that.
So, it was not easy, but it was really well done, in my opinion. And, this is why that Labor Day benchmark is so important, because it's almost like a finish line you look at it is like, "I can see it!" you know [laughs]. And, whether or not it's actually true or not, it's still something that you say, "OK, it's officially Labor Day. So we're going to have a slowdown for sure." And, the Melody Tent shows might become a little bit more manageable, since we're not doing the vacationers in addition to the Melody Tent shows.
Eident You and I have also talked the last two times about the vacationers, the folks that come down and help this economy to thrive as it does every summer. But, some folks who maybe weren't as polite as perhaps they could be, and that even prompted you and your West End co-owner and your wife, Jen Villa, to post a plea for civility on Facebook in August. Can you talk about what happened that prompted you to write this post?
Toedt Well, it was part of what happens here at our restaurant and then a collection of stories from restaurant friends.
It used to be people came out for dinner to have a nice time out. You're getting served, you're sitting at a table with a tablecloth in a beautifully set room, and you've got a server that's asking, "What can I get for you tonight?" It's an experience. So, that's what all of us service professionals love about the business. And, when that is taken away from you, and you're forced to, I guess, meet unrealistic demands and have unhappy guests for really no apparent reason, it's confusing and it becomes more concerning and it makes the work so much harder.
And that's why, you know, we put the post up. It was just a reminder that we're in the service industry. Let us serve you. Let us do our work. It's really hard to explain to guests why we can't see them right away if they come in and they see an empty table, or why their meals might be taking so long. So, it was just a reminder to everyone that's not in the business to be nicer, and for people in the service industry to just know that we're in it, too, and we hear you and we're supporting you.
Eident What's ahead for you, what do you anticipate changing, or what do you see as challenges or opportunities as we head toward the holidays and winter?
Toedt Well, you know, with September Melody Tent shows, that's a first for us. But, some challenges in there might just be keeping our staffing levels up as fall approaches on Cape Cod. Our staff, their schedules change, you know, so making sure that everyone still has a healthy schedule and that we're accommodating their scheduling needs.
And then October, November, hoping that the people's relationship with COVID stays the same, and that we are still able to operate normally because outdoor dining becomes less accessible. The weather isn't always great. We're just hoping that COVID doesn't rear its ugly head and cause us any sort of restrictions or shutdowns, because that would be pretty traumatic at this point.
Eident Well, Blane, thank you so much for talking with us, not just about Labor Day, but about how things looked at July 4th and Memorial Day, too. It's been so interesting to come along with you on this such an unusual summer, and I wish you the best of luck this fall.
Toedt Thank you very much. We are over the moon about you choosing us to be a part of this journey. Let's hope for a beautiful fall and, you know, just get into the holiday season without any interruptions.