Evansville restaurants struggle to hire as economy reopens

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EVANSVILLE, Ind. – They say no worker lasts long in the restaurant industry unless they love it … and it looks like COVID has tested that love for many.

Most restaurants in our area have difficulty hiring staff; some have even had to restrict their opening hours or reduce the number of seats – and the explanation goes much further than unemployment benefits.

Being a waiter or line cook is exhausting work at the best of times. It comes with an average income, high stress levels, and long hours that are often not family friendly.

The pandemic has made the situation worse. Restrictions on dinners meant fewer tips, hours became unpredictable, and there were belligerent customers opposed to security protocols.

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With the crowds returning, many restaurants are understaffed and cash-strapped, intensifying even the usual stressors before the pandemic.

A few, finally, are successful in hiring, but this is at least in part due to the fact that students are out of school for the summer and starting salaries are increasing.

Some longtime restaurant workers told Courier & Press that the whole situation made them look for other areas of work.

“I will never return to the industry,” said Jennifer Moorhead, who has worked as a waiter, bartender, event coordinator and director of marketing in the restaurant industry. “You get mistreated for $ 2.5 an hour, and in my opinion that’s why people don’t come back. Several people I know have found employment elsewhere and are back to work.

Trainee Jennifer Murray, left, takes notes as waiter Heather Hile, right, reviews the drink list on Murray's second day of training at Knob Hill Tavern in Newburgh, Indonesia, on Tuesday evening 5 May 2021.

“The idea that a majority of restaurant workers sit around doing nothing is not only silly, but reflects the way people perceive service workers in general – that they don’t deserve better wages. because they’re lazy or below average or whatever.

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Moorhead now works in Marketing and Sales. She still works as a private bartender, starts her own business cooperative and does other work in parallel.

“I have set the bar much higher and I am asking for a healthy work environment and culture, as well as adequate compensation,” she said.

Miki Whitmore said she has been a restaurant professional all of her adult life. She’s still with the company, but she’s moving to a new job and says it’s the last one she’ll accept in the industry if it’s not an improvement over other restaurants she’s worked at.

“Either way, I’m setting the standards I’ll be working on, but in the COVID atmosphere I’ve found myself increasingly reluctant to deal with these toxicities that are hard to avoid in the restaurant world,” a- she declared. “I want to know how well the kitchen and the facade work together. How is an employee protected if a customer or supervisor harasses them? How do they treat the dishwasher? Can the staff eat? “

Whitmore compared the service job to the meme in which a boss yells at a father, the father yells at the mother, the mother yells at the child and the child yells at the dog, only the waiters are the dog, did she declared.

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“You’re in a rush to work long hours, have bright and friendly demeanor, meet appearance standards and so on,” Whitmore said, “but so many places won’t even feed their employees or will not give them time and space to eat. . It’s crazy.”

Alea Beckham left the restaurant industry in March and now works elsewhere.

“If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you know some people just aren’t cut out to work in the industry, and I’m talking about pre-COVID,” she said. “COVID has created a whole new set of problems. While some of the staff were eager to return, others chose to remain unemployed so they wouldn’t have to be exposed to the virus or deal with all the new protocols. Others eventually found new jobs because they’d rather have weekends off, benefits, and other things the industry just doesn’t offer. I think people just want stability, and that’s not something the industry has right now. “

Jennifer Murray is in the industry and has no plans to leave, but sees staffing issues and wants clients to understand the flow the industry is currently in. She works at Cheddar’s and has just started a second job at Knob Hill Tavern in Newburgh.

“In some places the servers have just closed; I don’t know if it’s because they are afraid of COVID or if it’s because of the stimulus money or if they are just tired of serving because you are exhausted ”, she said declared. “Customers seem to be more cranky now. Everyone just wanted restaurants to be open, but now that we are, they seem less forgiving as we are understaffed.”

That said, Murray loves being a waiter and can’t imagine any other job.

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“It’s a good job for someone like me who really needs to be around people,” she said. “I earn quite a bit of money, although it depends on the restaurant and if you work in a place that is always very busy. I make more money than a lot of my friends with college degrees. ”

There are glimmers of hope that things will work out eventually. With students looking for summer jobs, many positions can be filled.

Chef James Shemwell of Bud’s Rockin ‘Country Bar & Grill and KC’s Marina Pointe has staff and looks forward to summer.

“After months and months of scheduling interviews so as not to show up, we’ve had a surge of quality candidates at Bud’s, mostly in the kitchen,” he said. “There is no doubt that some people were riding the wave of unemployment and the recovery, but we have managed to put together the strongest staff we have ever had. We offer an above average starting salary for the region and try to make the job fun and comfortable. Many of our waiters at Marina Pointe have worked there in previous seasons and know it’s a good way to make a lot of money.

Only time will tell how the current situation will resolve itself. By the end of the summer, when the students return to school, pandemic protocols will (hopefully) no longer be an issue, a busy summer will have helped swell bank accounts and, perhaps, the industry will be able to recover with some adjustments. Time will tell us.

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