Restaurants pay more. Many still cannot fill the jobs.

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Coffee at Folino wine estate in the Township of Greenwich is the type of restaurant where you usually want to reserve during peak hours.

Parties often consist of couples on dates, groups of friends enjoying a night out, and large family reunions. Guests order wine for the table and dine on premium Italian cuisine, often staying for coffee and dessert.

It’s the kind of hip establishment where waiters can earn hundreds of dollars in tips on a busy night.

Except that the café at Folino Estate is closed due to a problem all too common in the restaurant industry: the lack of manpower.

The tasting room and the gift shop are open. The kitchen always serves light fare such as pizza and ice cream, and the dining room sporadically reopens or hosts special events.

The daily sit-down meal service is however suspended.

As restaurants in Berks County look to tackle the ongoing staff shortage, some, like Folino Estate, are trying a new approach in an effort to hire more workers.

They pay higher wages.

Results so far have been mixed, however, as the labor crisis affecting most industries in the United States – but particularly the hospitality industry – remains a puzzle with no single cause or solution.

Critics of the expanded employment benefits that have been put in place due to COVID-19 have insisted, for example, that worker shortages will ease when the program ends in September.

Still, many restaurant owners and managers are complaining that they haven’t noticed a dramatic change in the number of people looking for work in the past two months since the start of the pandemic.

“No, no no,” said Stephanie Fister, director of human resources for MAF Hospitality, which operates Vintner’s Table in Phoenixville, Chester County, in addition to Folino Estate Winery. “We haven’t seen an increase or an influx of applicants. I was hopeful, but didn’t see an influx.

“And I don’t know where people have gone.”

‘Where are they?’

It’s a sentiment that was echoed by Michael O’Leary, owner of the popular Breakfast and Brunch. Bad Biscuit Co. in the canton of Basse-Alsace.

“I’ve had a guy since (extended unemployment) stopped coming in for a dishwasher job,” O’Leary said. “That’s it. We had feelers and nothing.

“My question is what are they doing? Because everyone is looking for help. Where are they?”

Speculation about the fate of the missing workforce is endless, and it seems there is no one answer.

Child care may have played a role in some parents’ decision to stay home, although schools and daycares have since reopened and the economy is growing again.

There have been reports of an increase in the number of workers in some form of self-employment, whether starting a business, entering the concert economy, selling or reselling products online, or even to create content for websites such as YouTube and Twitch.

One party lives with or cares for someone or is themselves immunocompromised and cannot safely hold a job with regular exposure to the public during a pandemic.

And there are those who believe that after almost a year and a half of hiding in their home, some people are scared or just don’t want to go back to work.

Terri Ziemba works for clients of Bad Biscuit Co. in the canton of Lower Alsace. (BEN HASTY – EAGLE READING)

Either way, it’s not like the restaurants haven’t tried to throw the kitchen sink on the problem.

Since Bad Biscuit opened in April, it has tried to attract waiters with a salary of $ 4 an hour, more than $ 1 more than the minimum of $ 2.83 for tip workers in Pennsylvania.

O’Leary says they got lucky and successfully hired a trio of high school students, one of whom is still employed at the restaurant. Eventually, they were also successful in luring a veteran server away from a nearby competitor.

He said she made $ 500 to $ 600 per week in tips, working 30 to 35 hours.

“We could actually use more,” he said. “We would like to have a hostess. We need another barista – but these kids come in, they worked at Starbucks for five minutes and they want $ 25 an hour. I can’t give you this.

Folino Estate had faced its staff shortage but was eventually forced to suspend regular catering activities in September when Kutztown University, seven miles away, resumed classes. Fister estimated that 35 student-employees left to concentrate on their studies.

The restaurant has tried everything to bring them back, from increasing wages – “wine educators” start at $ 15 an hour – to offering paid time off and other benefits. Fister has also attended college career fairs and even considered outsourcing a bus that could transport students between campus and work.

Of course, bus drivers are also rare these days.

“We had the mentality of how to get students back here to work,” Fister said. “I just don’t know if the work ethic has changed, if the pandemic has scared people, if parents of students may be finding out (financially) for them.

“We have great people here who work very hard. I hope it will get better soon.”

Change the work model

Fister noted that Folino Estate has received a few applications and continues to hire in hopes of taking over the restaurant service in early December.

Meanwhile, in the township of Exeter, the Hotel in Stonersville is gradually reopening under a new owner and has successfully filled all of its positions.

“We are happy to announce that our vacancies have been accepted”, can we read in an article on the restaurant’s social networks. “Don’t believe it when they say ‘nobody wants to work’ workers know their value and want to be paid appropriately for their time.”

Operating partner Raymond Keely chose not to disclose the starting salary at the Stonersville hotel, describing the salary as experimental, but revealed that with tip sharing, the average take-home pay for employees aged 18 and over more would be well over $ 15 an hour.

Nor was it strictly in response to the labor shortage. He pointed out that paying employees a living wage was still part of the plan when the new group of owners bought the Stonersville Hotel this year.

“We realized that the restaurant industry needs to make these changes when it comes to paying fair wages and moving away from tip-based infrastructure,” Keely said.

“If you’re not going to make changes and experiment now, when are you going to do it?” Because the industry has changed.

Keely said that in addition to being exploitative, the history of the tip minimum wage is rooted in the racist tenets of the Jim Crow era.

“It has been toxic,” he said. “As business owners, we shouldn’t expect operating models to be based on, ‘If customers really like my people, then they can pay them. I’m not going to.’

“This is no way to run a business, no matter what time of day it is. “

All of this may be true, but Keely acknowledged that salaries at the Stonersville hotel are not solely responsible for the restaurant’s hiring success. Being new was also a natural draw for workers looking to enter the ground floor of a business.

But when the time came to discuss compensation, it was a game-changer.

“A lot of people didn’t know we were changing the working model here,” Keely said. “People expected to be paid according to other restaurants and were quite surprised.

“It was good from a hiring point of view. All of a sudden it went from “This is just a job” to “Oh, what else are you doing that’s different that keeps this going here?” “”

“I hope we can show other restaurants”

The Stonersville Hotel is different from many of its competitors in that it has its own farm, which should help keep food costs down considerably.

Most restaurants don’t have such a perk or anything comparable, so paying a similar salary comes with other tradeoffs or just isn’t possible.

At Bad Biscuit, a small establishment that doesn’t sell alcohol to persuade patrons to sit longer and increase check totals, even increasing the hourly rate by $ 1, it adds up quickly.

“I can’t afford to go any higher than that,” O’Leary said. “My payroll already every two weeks is around $ 4,200 for that little joint. And that doesn’t include me. I couldn’t even take a check this week because I don’t put myself in front of the employees. .

” We are well. It was just a tough week. These invoices all arrived at the same time.

At Folino Estate, the cost of paying higher salaries will be passed on to the client in part through a 20% service charge.

Even so, Fister laments that there are perks that even a bigger restaurant and winery can’t deliver that huge companies in other industries are using to entice workers.

“How do we compete with Amazon, which pays the tuition fees of its employees? ” she asked. “As a small business, we cannot afford the tuition fees. “

For Keely’s part, while he and his partners have calculated the numbers, they don’t know for sure that the kind of salary offered by the Stonersville hotel will be sustainable in the long run, or that hiring will remain strong in six months. . once the hours get longer and the novelty wears off.

That being said, he sees the dilemma of getting people to want to work in restaurants again as a self-fulfilling prophecy and entirely under the control of the power of the owners.

“Part of that means property and investors can’t take predatory chunks of capital out of the business,” Keely said. “Unfortunately, in this industry this has been the case for too long.

“Hopefully this will work for us and we can show other restaurants in the area, ‘Hey, we can do that,’ and it’s not this story that it’s all going to be passed on to the consumer. This is only true if you are dealing with people who are trying to take money out of the business instead of making it an investment in the community and for the community.


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