For years I’ve felt the initial rush of joy and jealousy for my restaurant-owner kin when visiting vacation destinations where it is difficult or nearly impossible to get desirable restaurant reservations, where the earliest and latest tables are the best bet, hordes of people waiting in the street hoping to be seated on week nights…tables booked weeks in advance.
Then, I always manage to “shake it off,” reconsidering the certainty of endless and exacerbated frustrations and inconsistencies that surely must accompany seasonal hiring and staffing challenges–every new season a do-over, for what is most often a shortened and furious few weeks of increased business intensity–a brief few weeks to pay a years worth of rent, debt, salaries, insurance, licensing, etc.
Last night, I attended a wine dinner and sat across from the owner of Garde East restaurant located in the town of Vineyard Haven on Martha’s Vineyard. As the conversation turned to the glory of restaurant stewardship, he confirmed without pulling punches, what I’ve always suspected. And worse! “Don’t ever” was his sorrowful advice. With the increased burden of ever greater industry challenges than before–low unemployment, an unmotivated local workforce, lack of immigrant labor and ever shrinking visa access– the labor conundrum is desperate.
According to dude, almost all his employees are now from Eastern bloc countries on J1 visas, and, aware of our situation, are aware that they hold the cards and regularly exploit that leverage. Many refuse to come to meetings, show up late if at all, leave early, are generally resistant, knowing they won’t be fired. He has what only truly amounts to 7 weeks in which to do the sales that must sustain the restaurant for the entire year–best case scenario.
It was an ugly tale indeed.