John Bennett, from the family behind Brophy Bros., On The Alley, Benchmark Eatery, and Farmer Boy, offers some thoughts on the local restaurant workforce and how it has been affected by the pandemic:
To Those We Wish To Serve
Santa Barbara’s restaurant industry, having suffered an almost fatal blow from the pandemic quarantine, is now dealing with lingering side effects. Even as restaurant sales are rebounding from the pandemic-hammered levels of a year ago, Santa Barbara full- service restaurants are struggling to ramp back up because they can’t recruit enough employees. Even with 1.8 million restaurant workers displaced by the crisis since February 2020, the local full-service restaurant industry’s labor crunch is in full force.
I assure you that full-service restaurant operators understand that service will be more important than ever as guests unleash their pent-up demand for enhanced restaurant experiences. They’re going to want to be waited on, pampered, and served an experience they could never recreate at home. And it will be up to restaurants to deliver, because even as that pent-up demand fuels dine-in traffic, customers will remain aware of the convenience we delivered during the pandemic. They’ll know how to dial up delivery, order-ahead, pickup, shop curbside, and all those channels that kept them afloat during COVID. They will not be happy when they return to dine-in if the experience is not as satisfying. The loss of an experienced workforce is, therefore, a side-effect of the pandemic.
Many in the community may be wondering, “What happened to all the wonderful servers we came to know and look forward to seeing again? Where did they go?”
1. While restaurants were furloughing their whole workforces, employers in other industries kept hiring. Businesses like supermarkets, e-retailers and fulfillment warehouses scarfed up the former busboys, servers and kitchen workers, who welcomed the relative safety those fields afforded.
2. Rival industries tried to lock in their employees by raising pay. Target, for instance, temporarily raised its standard pay to $15 an hour, and Amazon increased its starting wage to the same amount.
3. Because restaurant workers are more exposed to the COVID-19 virus, hospitality occupations became less and less attractive.
4. Women, the very backbone of the restaurant business, fell out of the workforce due to child-care issues and school not being in full swing.
5. The extension of the enhanced unemployment benefits of $300 until September 6th enabled restaurant employees to wait a little longer before jumping back in.
6. College being held remote and not on campus removed most of the UCSB students from our labor force.
Restaurant work has been the mainstay employment for Americans in transition since the end of World War II. They have been attracted to the flexible hours, high hourly tipped income, the entertainment atmosphere and the magic that comes with being of service. They will return but unfortunately, it’s not likely until after the summer. We hope the guests are aware of this struggle and show some empathy for the workforce carrying the load.