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Top view of bourbon on the rocks

We walked into a restaurant in downtown LakePlacid last week. It looked about half full — a few small parties were scattered throughout the place, numbering 30 at the most. My friends said the place had always been a “lively” spot. The Fire Marshall’s sign said capacity was 176. 

The hostess, looking sad and exasperated, told us there’d be a 20-minute wait. The five of us waited patiently for a table and then waited again at the table. Our server approached rapidly in black running pants and high-top sneakers, with her long blonde ponytail swinging behind her. She stared straight at her notepad and quickly asked, “What are we drinking?”

No welcome, introductions, or small talk. She was BUSY.

“I’ll have a Maker’sMark and ginger, please,” I said.

“You want that on the rocks or in a tall glass?” she asked.

“Um, I…uh,” I stammered. “Both?”

“I’m asking you if you want ice in your drink,” she snapped.

“Yes please,” I replied sheepishly. My friends and I all stared at each other in disbelief. I took a deep breath and kept smiling because I knew immediately what she (and every other server) is going through right now. This is 2021 America. Post-pandemic. And the cracks are starting to show. 

I looked over and saw our server run back to the bar. She typed in the order then literally ran around the bar and made all five drinks. In addition to seating customers, the hostess was running around bussing tables as fast as she could. Her nice, new summer dress had a pizza sauce stain on the hip, which she dabbed with a napkin and soda water.

Bars, restaurants, and hotels are suffering through the worst labor shortage of my lifetime. Over 50 percent of U.S. hospitality workers polled in a recent survey said they’re not returning to work. Unemployment is up and the Labor Participation Rate is just above all-time lows. Despite rising wages, there are just not enough people looking for, and willing, to work. And a higher minimum wage of $9.50 in Virginia or $13.50 in NewYork means nothing when there are dozens of restaurant jobs listed on Indeed in Lake Placid that offer up to $25 per hour.

The experts on the news give many reasons. Yes, some people are afraid to come back to work. Yes, some of them do not have child care. Yes, some of them got different jobs during the pandemic. But in my opinion, the biggest factor is “enhanced unemployment” benefits. Unemployment benefits in New York can top $806 per week. $506 from New York. $300 from UncleSam. I don’t blame them for staying home.

Would you like to work your butt off for $25 per hour or stay home on your butt for $21 per hour? I know what I’d do. We cleaned up our table. Took our glasses back to the bar. I handed her a big tip and told her to hang in there. That was the first time I saw her smile all night.

But the good news is companies can still find talent in a tough labor market. Next Friday, the entire WeeklyReport will focus on strategies and tactics for getting more qualified applicants through social and digital media. Stay tuned!