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Unique Solutions to Restaurants’ Seasonal Labor Shortage

Our resilient labor market perseveres, cranking out more jobs in May than anticipated. Leisure and hospitality added 48,000 jobs, thanks to restaurants and bars. All-in-all, the industry is still 349,000 jobs below pre-pandemic levels. 

What does that mean for restaurants? For many, it translates to a continuing labor shortage affecting their operations and guest experience. Let’s explore a few of the hardest-hit areas and the steps they’re taking as the labor crunch drags on. 

The Tourist Meccas

Maine offers incredible beachside resorts. It’s a summer haven for many East Coast vacationers, a season restaurants look forward to, adding to their coiffures before the winter chill descends. Unfortunately, these seaside hotels and eateries are facing what many operators in seasonal locations are experiencing—a labor shortage that’s affecting their peak season.

From the end of May to early October, many of Maine’s resorts and restaurants earn the bulk of their revenue. In 2022, Maine experienced a record $8.6 billion in tourism spending. The influx of tourists requires additional staff, staff that doesn’t exist.

As with many destination spots, the area has long depended on federal visa programs to bring in staff from abroad. These seasonal workers, however, only account for half the demand, leaving businesses short-staffed and frustrated. 

Additional Pipelines

In the summer, Maine’s hospitality industry typically looks for workers via federal J-1 and H-2B visa programs as well as newspaper ads and online job boards. This year, they’re expanding their search, turning to the Department of Corrections, high schools, and job fairs. When employment levels still fall short, they count on cross-training to fill high-demand roles. 

Community Colleges

Southern Maine Community College is seeking to offer a long-term solution to this growing problem. Their hospitality management and culinary arts programs provide hands-on experience with visits to top restaurants and hotels, allowing students to learn from owners and operators of these establishments. Unfortunately, these 1-2 year programs can’t ease the current situation.

A Culinary Crash Course

As a result of the continued shortages, a culinary crash course designed to increase restaurant workers was born. HospitalityMaine partnered with York County Community College to offer the New Cook Bootcamp. 

In a little over three days, students experience a fast-paced crash course in cooking, entry-level training designed to help the state’s troubled restaurants find more staff. Hands-on coursework includes cooking the bounty of seafood Maine is known for, including salmon with caper sauce and mussels mariniere. They break down a chicken and use parts of it during the week to make soup, stock, velouté sauce, chicken fricassee, and wings. 

They also learned safety, cutting, and various cooking skills. The curriculum was designed with input from HospitalityMaine and local employers who shared what they looked for in kitchen staff. Each student receives ServSafe certification and a certificate from the college.

A grant from the Harold Alfond Center for the Advancement of Maine’s Workforce allows students to attend the course for free and receive a $350 stipend just for completing it.

The Effects in North Carolina

Meanwhile, over 1000 miles away in North Carolina, the Charlotte dining scene is making headway, emerging as a major contender and considered by some the next big dining destination in the South. The state’s largest city, with an incredible growing season and diverse cuisines, is home to three 2023 James Beard Award semifinalists. 

According to the Independent Restaurant Coalition, almost 20,000 restaurants and bars are found within North Carolina’s borders, with 76% of those independently owned. Today, restaurant owners are seeing record numbers. Unfortunately, they’re also worker-deprived. Between August 2021-2022, the restaurant turnover rate in North Carolina was almost 48%. 

In response, restaurant sections are closed despite long wait times. All hands on deck mean the lines between the BOH and FOH have drawn thin. FOH is packing to-go orders. BOH is delivering food while it’s still warm. It’s a strange world we live in. Lines traverse out the front door and down the block while some tables sit empty. 

While the labor shortage has been going on for years, COVID-19 exacerbated the condition. Now, many restaurants have removed tables, closed for two days a week, or stopped serving lunch. Operating at full capacity has become a thing of the past. 

The Response

As with Maine, restaurants are turning to employee pools not previously considered, such as those recovering from drug addiction or recently released from incarceration. Sign-on bonuses and $ 15-an-hour wages are common.

Enter Target Workforce

In response to watching their restaurant partners suffer the consequences of a labor market gone awry, EMERGING developed Target Workforce. This proprietary technology is a hyper-targeted solution revolutionizing the hiring process.

Using advanced geo-location, mobile tracking, and IP address verification, Target Workforce connects operators to highly qualified staff. Are you ready to redefine what’s possible in the current labor market? Target Workforce can deliver. To learn more about this advanced technology or to schedule a demo, contact EMERGING today.

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