Jersey Shore restaurants face new challenge with worker shortage
Jersey Shore restaurants have been dealt challenge after challenge during the Covid-19 pandemic, whether it's been restrictions on capacity limits, trying to find PPE, set up outdoor dining especially those who never had it before and now comes the challenge of having enough help to open and stay open without cutting hours or worse.
Countless restaurants, diners, bars and food establishments need your help once again and this time in-person, if possible.
Many of these places don't have much help at all due to the staffing/hiring shortage due in many cases in New Jersey people collecting unemployment benefits which include a bonus through September.
Things have become so dire with not having enough staff, people who are working, are doing double or triple the work in certain cases.
"I went a month without a dishwasher, I was in the kitchen on the weekends scrubbing dishes and making sure the food's coming out. It's been exhausting on not only me but on the staff that we do have," Marlboro Diner owner Kara Petrou said. "It's hard because you can't even ask them to work an extra shift because they're so exhausted from the shift that they just worked."
Business has picked up at places like the Marlboro Diner but Petrou explains that the challenge for her and so many others is having staff come through the door.
"It's baffling to me because the servers that we do have and the staff that we do have is making crazy amounts of money more, I can say, than they'd be getting at home on unemployment," Petrou said. "It's just very disheartening, it's discouraging because it's almost like unemployment is making it a career choice to stay home and employers have to give incentives and bonuses to start work when you should be grateful to have a job and it's not just the restaurant industry that's being affected, it's places all over."
The staffing shortage is affecting restaurants and businesses of all kinds, all struggling to have a full staff including Tim McCloone who owns The Rum Runner in Sea Bright, Pier House in Pier Village in Long Branch, a Robinson Ale House that will open up in Pier Village in Long Branch as will Kahuna Burgers, a Robinson Ale House in Asbury Park as well as Tim McCloone's Supper Club and the Iron Whale, there will also be a Kahuna Burger opening up in Asbury Park on the south end of the boardwalk this year, C.J. McCloone's Pub and Grille is a restaurant in Tinton Falls, a Robinson Ale House in Red Bank and then a restaurant in West Orange called McCLoone's Boathouse.
"It's been difficult to be fully staffed this year, probably the worst I can remember, but I think the reasons are much more complex than are being offered out there," McCloone said. "I think there's always a desire for whatever reason to demonize people to take unemployment like everything's their fault. It's certainly part of what is going on because the more generous payouts serve as a disincentive for some people to go back. We saw that in most cases, our employees wanted to come back and did."
However, with an ongoing staffing shortage, some restaurants and businesses are offering incentives including raising the amount they pay workers, to try and get people to work.
"We've raised what we give, it's above average of what we used to pay our kitchen staff," Petrou said.
"We were going to raise our minimum wage anyway, a few months ago we went to $13.00 an hour for non-tip people...the ones cleaning the restaurants, or the host at the front door or the line-cooks or any number of other people who do not interact with the customer, we raised them to $13.00 and our plan was to go to $14.00 in May and then $15.00 in June when our season really kicked in but then the labor shortage came along," McCloone said. "We were all sitting there saying, we're going to go $15.00 anyway, we might as well do it now, so we actually switched over to $15.00 an hour for all of our non-tipped employees about three weeks ago."
Outside of raising minimum wage for non-tips employees, McCloone isn't necessarily looking to add in any other incentives.
"I guess it's possible, I'm trying to avoid that kind of bounty system because I just think that it brings inequities to the house, 'wait a second, I've been here for all this time and now you're paying somebody else to do the same thing I've been doing as a bonus?'," McCloone said.
There's a lot being reopened across the state and more people expected to be at the Jersey Shore this summer, but what will the lines look like without enough staffing in place?
"I personally feel that it's going to get worse in the summer because we didn't have a summer last year, no-one was able to leave their house, so as long as the unemployment stays in place, it's going to be extremely hard to get people through that door," Petrou said.