By: Tom Eastman, Conway Daily Sun
CONWAY -- With a busy summer underway despite the coronavirus pandemic — or perhaps because of it, with visitors eager to spend their recreational time and dollars in the great, socially distanced, outdoors — Mount Washington Valley businesses have seen their operations impacted by a lack of workers.
This worker drought has also affected pay scales, with establishments like the Stonehurst Manor recently advertising a salary of $52,000-$60,000 for a sous chef — and getting no offers, according to owner Peter Rattay.
“A year ago, that would have been a great price and gotten responses, but not this summer — employers are holding onto their people and paying good money,” Rattay said.
Elvio’s Pizzeria and Restaurant of North Conway is usually open six or seven days in summer. But this year, says Elvio DeCilla, the lack of workers has forced him to cut back to Thursday-Sunday hours.
But as it’s been such a frenetically busy summer, his numbers are equal to last year’s full schedule.
“It’s been an incredibly busy summer,” he said. “Usually, we get orders for lunch and then it slows down and then picks up for the night. But it never slacks off — it’s as busy midweek as it is weekends.
In a normal summer, he said he employs 25-30, including several J-1 foreign workers. But this year he has only about 20, “and six to seven of those are my children and grandchildren,” DeCilla said.
“The unemployment benefit – the $600 — is not helping; it is hurting. I don’t know what will happen come Labor Day, as that usually means the end of summer — but who knows if students will be going back to college and who knows if people are still going to keep coming to visit?” he asked.
The labor shortage is also being felt at such venerable local establishments as the Red Parka Steakhouse and Pub in Glen.
“How bad is the shortage of employees? I’ve got my 71-year-old retired policeman husband busing tables,” said Terry O’Brien, co-owner of the Red Parka, a former president of the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association.
“We are open five days a week (Tuesday through Saturday) because we cannot get enough help,” said O’Brien. “I really don’t know what will happen after Labor Day as I have high school kids who might plan on continuing to work, but we’ll see what happens,” she said.
“I have four high school students who are server assistants — hopefully, their parents will let them continue to work,” O’Brien continued.
“We also have shorter hours due to the staff shortage — I have one employee in the kitchen who is going off to college at the end of the week, and I am not sure what will happen.”
She said: “I have done it in the past, but I know I am way too old to go back into the kitchen and doing line duty.”
O’Brien said she has had to be creative in how to staff her positions, and that the pay scale for dishwashers and cooks, for instance, has gone up considerably.
“Dishwashers are getting $15 an hour compared to starting in the $10 range, as we’ve always paid our dishwashers well. And cooks are being paid $15 an hour and up, which is way more than what we paid them before,” said O’Brien.
“I have two guys I could have put on the line, cooking, but because I didn’t have anyone else, I had to have them do the dishwashing.”
Several restaurateurs interviewed, including Rattay; DeCilla; O’Brien; Dave Stone of Horsefeathers and Deacon Street of North Conway; Mike Mallett of the Red Fox Pub & Grille of Jackson; and Stu Dunlop of the Wildcat Inn and Tavern, also of Jackson, said the shortage has been exacerbated by the pandemic and the effects of the federal government’s now-expired CARES Act that served as an unintended enticement for local employees not to go back to work.
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