Commentary: No industry was hit harder by the pandemic than the hospitality industry. Bars and restaurants were forcibly closed. Then allowed to open. Then forced to close again.
Business owners were left without any source of income for months at a time. Millions of service industry employees were laid off.
With nowhere to turn, waiters, waitresses, and bartenders turned to unemployment compensation to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. When the federal government added an extra $600 a week to regular unemployment benefits, many of the service industry folks realized a significant income increase. Even now with $300 extra per week, a great number of people are making more than pre-pandemic wages. Stimulus checks help provide enough funds to tide many people over this rough patch, as well.
During the height of the restrictions to stop the spread of the pandemic, bars were completely shut down, and inside seating at restaurants was severely limited if not shut down altogether. In Texas, eateries adapted their business models and stepped up their take-out, catering, and curbside service. Some owners laid off their entire staff of cooks, bartenders, and waiters and ran their business themselves.
While not getting rich, the limited business options allowed many restaurants to stave off creditors and keep the doors open. Their former employees were on the outside looking in.
As the pandemic eased and vaccinations began, businesses began to reopen. But a funny thing happened on the way to a return to normalcy. Many of the people who worked for poverty wages of $2.13 per hour plus tips were not ready to return to work. And bars and restaurants were not changing their business models to include a livable wage for employees.
Given a choice of staying home or returning to work and minimum wage jobs, they chose to stay home. “Do I stay home or deal with being assaulted by anti-maskers?” they asked themselves. Service employees under 50 years of age and not yet eligible for vaccines were confronted with being put on the front lines against a deadly virus for less money than if they stayed home.
Right-wingers have taken up hospitality worker bashing as their latest cause celebre. Well, that and attacking transgender youth and voting rights. “People are lazy,” is a common complaint. They are confusing lazy with smart and knowing one’s worth.
“They must have been a sorry waiter if they can make more on unemployment,” said someone who never served a party of 20 and is probably a lousy tipper.
“Socialism makes people reliant on government,” is the right wing’s boogey man.
These people are the same ones who complain about immigrants taking American jobs. You know, the farm laborers who pick your tomatoes, potatoes, and other veggies. Many farmers, like restaurateurs, have relied on paying poverty wages for decades.
In past years Galveston restaurants have staffed their businesses during tourist season by utilizing foreign exchange visitors through the J-1 visas program. A J-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa issued by the United States to research scholars, professors, and exchange visitors participating in programs that promote cultural exchange. Those people are not here this summer.
Some bar and restaurant managers are complaining that they cannot find enough help. Some claim to have reduced capacity so as not to overwork the staff on hand. Others have reduced hours for the same reason.
None have mentioned that they are raising salaries and increasing benefits. If a business needs employees to serve its customers and is losing business by not having enough employees, the answer is simple: Hire more employees.
And how does one recruit more staff? It’s a simple case of supply and demand. When gasoline demand is low the price at the pump drops precipitously. During the summer when demand is high, gas prices rise accordingly. Employee demand should be no different.
Susan M. Heathfield, author of 10 Tips for Successful Employee Recruitment, posted in The Balance wrote, “Pay Better Than Your Competition: Yes, you do get what you pay for in the job market. Survey your local job market and take a hard look at the compensation people in your industry attract. You want to pay better than average to attract and keep the best candidates. Seems obvious, doesn’t it?
It’s not. Employers every day talk about how to get employees cheaply. It’s a bad practice. Did you hear, “You do get what you pay for in the job market?”
At some point, restaurants and bars may require proof of vaccination for a customer to enter. We may see signs reading, “No shirt, no shoes, no vaccine, no service.”
And you thought asking a minimum wage employee to enforce a mask requirement was tough.