- August 29, 2021
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It’s no secret the past 18 months have been extremely challenging for those in the hospitality industry, in particular bars and restaurants.
With multiple factors challenging the industry including mandatory closures because of COVID-19, followed by seating capacity restrictions as well as the ongoing labor shortage, many operators in the hospitality business have been forced to make quick decisions.
“When we’re open, when we can be open, it’s been very, very good and we’ve been busy,” said Reg Smith, chairman of the board for Stafford’s Hospitality, which includes restaurants such as the Pier, Weathervane, Noggin Room Pub, Bay View Inn and the Roselawn Dining Room. “We just can’t hire enough people to be open seven days a week for lunch and dinner like we’d like to be.
“The level of business is there,” Smith added. “You’ve probably now seen there’s very little margin for error. If you have a couple of people who get sick or want to go to the fair, you may have to close for a meal period or close for a day or two and some of it is a mental health break.”
Smith said he knows the Stafford’s restaurants are not alone in having to resort to reduced hours of operations per staff size and giving employees a much needed mental health break.
The Side Door Saloon in Petoskey, for example, closed from Aug. 19-23, as owners Don and Lois Damerow stated via their Facebook page “Well, we toughed it out for as long as we could, but we are going to have to adjust our hours until we are fully staffed again. We will temporarily be closed until Monday, Aug. 23, re-opening at 4 p.m.”
The post from the Damerows continued “Our staff has been working hard, long hours and we are at the point where we just can’t spread them any thinner than we have been. I know that we are not alone with these labor issues and we hope that the shortage changes in the near future.
“We apologize in advance for any inconvenience and look forward to being back (to) full strength soon, we thank you all and appreciate your support!”
A similar Facebook posting from the Petoskey Brewing Company on Aug. 19 stated the brewpub located on M-119 would also be closed from Aug. 19-23 because of staffing shortages.
“This has been a stressful and busy summer for our staff and we want to make sure they are rested and healthy to provide the best service possible,” a post from the Petoskey Brewing Company read. “We hope you can be understanding and go out and support local restaurants where you can still enjoy our tasty brews!”
Smith said many in the hospitality/restaurant industry are resilient, “but it’s also kind of fragile at the moment in places and operators are just having to think on their feet a lot.
“It’s not over yet I would say.”
Smith added recent changes in the industry for some customers may take some getting used to.
“Basically, some of it is communication,” Smith said. “It’s customers wondering about outside seating, but we are not serving on the veranda right now because of staff, so they didn’t necessarily ask the right questions or we didn’t necessarily ask the right questions to them. Some prime outdoor seating options may not be available because there’s not enough staff, or a guest will think we know exactly what they’re looking for and it falls on us to ask more questions.
Smith said nearly everyone in the industry is experiencing similar scenarios.
“If you’re a consumer and are making an inquiry, you want to make sure you ask the next couple of questions which may seem obvious,” Smith said. “Do you seat outside? When? What days? How many people?… that way people’s expectations will be met or not. That’s something people may not be used to.”
As far as a look into the fall season, Smith said bookings appear to be robust already.
“It does make me a little nervous,” Smith said looking ahead at the fall season. “I read where it’s listed by county how many people are on unemployment which ends on Sept. 4. There’s 1,000 people in Emmet County and another 1,000 people in Charlevoix County. I hope some of those people or all of those people come out and come back to work in our industry.”
Many restaurants and bars are now paying higher wages than ever before, Smith said, and many like at Stafford’s Hospitality are offering more flexible schedules.
“We’re really trying to take care of our employees,” Smith said. “They’re like family, really. I think people want to be in this business, for many it’s what they do and it’s part of their identity. It’s what we know and what we’re always go to do and we’re facing challenges, but it’s a good time to come back to work.”
Patience, Smith said, will be key for customers as the hospitality industry continues to deal with a myriad of challenges.
“We want to hear the good and the bad and we want to take care of problems when we can, I think all the operators up here feel that way,” Smith said. “I’d just say bear with us. We want to be back where we were.
“It’s just uncertain when we can get there.”