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Short Hands Signal Rough Start for Service Industry

Rushed reopenings, emboldened patrons, and industry-wide staffing shortages have left hospitality operators reeling during this initial wave of recovery. Are we witnessing the last lingering symptoms of operational atrophy, or are these new complications here to stay?

Guests are back--but where are all the workers?

According to a recent article in the New York Times, some of the potential issues ins store for recovering hospitality businesses may have already arrived.


Without sufficient time or capital available to adequately hire and train new employees, the article reports, many businesses are already struggling to capitalize on the sudden uptick in business, and in the case of one Miami business owner, some have been forced to shutdown entirely:


“I couldn’t find people to hire," she said last weekend outside her cafe, which reopened on March 1. "I just wanted some time to reset operations."

While the recently passed $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund could potentially offer businesses enough support to recruit leadership, hire workers, and afford standard pre-opening training costs, federal systems have crashed under nationwide demand, leaving bars and restaurant owners, once again, fending for themselves.


Businesses have also found themselves in fierce competition over a depleted labor pool. With many former hospitality workers migrating away from expensive city centers and hospitality hubs, others have left the industry for good, opting for new career paths in pursuit of better pay, normal hours, and financial stability. For those looking to eventually return to the workforce, unemployment insurance and new stimulus checks have provided a financial cushion to wait out a potentially volatile relaunch period, leaving current operators short-handed.


Even with less workers, understaffing could still cost owners dearly, as hourly pay could compound due to a dependency on overtime and risk of break penalties. Overwork also risks substantial levels of burnout and staff turnover, as operators struggle to retain newly-trained and onboarded staff from leaving for other industry opportunities without significant penalty.


Eager to rebuild and hastily reopen, owners and operators around the U.S. will be tempted to revert back to familiar operational structures as they did prior to the pandemic.


Just as grief and nostalgia tend to dilute our recollection of flaws and detriments of the past, it is vital that hospitality leaders recall the inadequacies that plagued their businesses prior to the pandemic and seize this opportunity to improve upon them.


With labor costs set to rise and increasingly value-driven patrons returning to a volatile service environment, the hospitality industry must not mistake regression for resourcefulness.


For if we build for the future utilizing only the rotted foundation that collapsed a year ago, despite all of what we have endured over the past year, we’ll only have ourselves to blame when it happens again.


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