As diners and restaurant owners embrace a summer reopening, long wait times are leaving a bitter taste

  

Category:  News & Politics

Via:  perrie-halpern  •  one month ago  •  34 comments

By:   Liat Weinstein

As diners and restaurant owners embrace a summer reopening, long wait times are leaving a bitter taste
A nationwide shortage of workers means long wait times for restaurants are becoming increasingly common. That's leaving customers and staff frustrated.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T



Families and friends hoping to finally enjoy a meal together at a restaurant this summer may find the experience a little hard to swallow, with wait lists of up to 90 minutes just to be seated, long pauses between courses, reduced menu offerings, and unpredictable hours.

The restaurant industry has been particularly hard hit by the nationwide worker shortage, as employees recalibrate their lives after the pandemic and consider other career trajectories that offer better pay and conditions. Many customer-facing employees are staying out of the workforce due to fears that they could contract Covid-19, and some continue to collect unemployment benefits.

The resulting dearth of workers means slower service at some restaurants, bars and cafes, which is a concern not just for diners, but for the businesses who have fought hard to survive the economic damage caused by the pandemic.

Jon O'Brien, of Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, was met with long lines at restaurants both near his home and while on a trip with his family to Orlando this past month, he said. When O'Brien tried to take his three daughters and their friends out to eat in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, he said they were told by multiple restaurants that waits were running over an hour — even when tables inside the restaurant appeared to be empty.

"When you have two fussy kids that are seven years old, that are starving, you don't want to hear them whining for an hour while you're waiting," O'Brien said. "We even offered to split up on different tables, and they still said that would be an hour wait as well."

After leaving the first restaurant, O'Brien said his family was still unable to find a restaurant that could seat them, so eventually they bought food at a grocery store and cooked dinner at home.

For Rhonda Atkins, who owns a franchised Skrimp Shack seafood restaurant in Winchester, Virginia, the shortage of employees is not just creating longer wait times, it's holding back her plans for expansion.

She wants to add outside dining, but is worried she won't be able to find enough staff to clean and serve those tables.

"You still have to have somebody who's going to go out, clean up, make sure the place stays clean," Atkins said. "And that requires staff."

While some larger fast-food chains are offering referral bonuses, sign-on bonuses, and even free college tuition to attract workers, Atkins said offering incentives is often impossible for smaller businesses such as hers.

"I think as we get bigger it will be easier for us to get more help from the corporate side of it," Atkins said. "But we're still small, so there's only so much they can do. We're still a small business."

Business owners say while they welcome the rise in customer volume — especially after 16 months of restrictions and closures — they worry that slow service and long waits to be seated will eventually start to have an impact on whether customers return in the future.

This has especially affected business owners in tourist hotspots, who are once again catering to visitors from across the country as travel picks up.

"You always want people to have a positive experience of going to a restaurant," said Chris Fuselier, owner of the Blake Street Tavern sports bar near Coors Field baseball stadium in Denver. "And if they have a negative experience, like a longer wait time, then they're probably not going to come back.


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Trout Giggles
Professor Principal
1  Trout Giggles    one month ago

I've experienced this problem in my small town. We went for brunch on Father's Day and half of the table got their food about 15 minutes before the other half.

I don't want to sound unfeeling but those employment bennies are going to be cut off. Then people will have no choice but to take the jobs they don't want to.

 
 
 
Paula Bartholomew
Professor Guide
1.1  Paula Bartholomew  replied to  Trout Giggles @1    one month ago

If any employee who is collecting UEB's, is offered their old job back, and they refuse because UE pays more should automatically lose any more benefits.

 
 
 
pat wilson
Professor Guide
1.1.1  pat wilson  replied to  Paula Bartholomew @1.1    one month ago

Accepting employment is already a requirement. How that's enforced is another story.

 
 
 
JohnRussell
Professor Principal
2  JohnRussell    one month ago

I have a niece who worked as a server in a high end restaurant in San Antonio. When the restaurant re-opened after covid a couple months ago (Texas re-opened earlier than other states) she did not go back and now has a job in a different field. 

Her main reason for not returning to the restaurant was the money. The servers and other restaurant personnel such as the ones who set and clear the tables are paid less than 3 dollars an hour in Texas plus tips. By the way, the restaurant management keeps a share of the tips for themselves. All in all, she was in some weeks making the equivalent of about 12 dollars an hour. They also have to work inconsistent hours on an unpredictable schedule. It is hard to plan your outside of work activities when you are not sure of your schedule day to day. 

If people have a great job they dont want to lose they will go back to work. If they dont like the job or the pay they will wait until the last minute. 

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
2.1  Kavika   replied to  JohnRussell @2    one month ago

In addition to the low wages and leaving the field for another field I saw a program last night where mothers/fathers are having a very difficult time finding child care. One woman is on three waiting lists for child care and until she is able to get child care she cannot return to work. Child care workers are another low paying field with the same problems.

The health care industry, home care/nursing home etc is a field predominantly dominated by women the majority are minority women. The average pay is $24,000 per year in this field. Without child care they can't work and the wages are simply to damn low for the work that they do. 

 
 
 
pat wilson
Professor Guide
2.2  pat wilson  replied to  JohnRussell @2    one month ago

That's so different than here in California. An experienced, skillful, people-oriented server here will have a six figure income, no question.

 
 
 
JBB
Professor Principal
2.2.1  JBB  replied to  pat wilson @2.2    one month ago

Per Zip Recruiter average income for servers in California is just under $25,000 per year...

 
 
 
pat wilson
Professor Guide
2.2.2  pat wilson  replied to  JBB @2.2.1    one month ago

Not the ones in Orange County. I know more than one.

 
 
 
JBB
Professor Principal
2.2.3  JBB  replied to  pat wilson @2.2.2    one month ago

I know several servers in high end restaurants in NYC and none of them make nearly that. The best industry info I can find indicates that an average server makes $15-20 per hour. Really high end servers making $200 per day would only equal about $50,000 per year. 

 
 
 
pat wilson
Professor Guide
2.2.4  pat wilson  replied to  JBB @2.2.3    one month ago

High end servers here make well over $200 per day. Not sure what you think is "high end". I'm not trying to argue, just stating what I know of around here.

 
 
 
devangelical
PhD Principal
2.2.5  devangelical  replied to  pat wilson @2.2    one month ago

I worked in a high end dinner house back in the 80's. I was making over $30K a year just in tips, in 80's money. the down side was that I had to work every friday, saturday, and sunday night, and every holiday. at $2.01 per hour, the prevailing hourly wage for servers in my state at that time, and after claiming my tips, (only those on credit card receipts, fuck you bob dole) my paycheck for 2 weeks was just the pay stub since taxes zeroed out the rest. in all the time I worked there, I think I got 3 pay checks, maybe $50 total if that.

there were no 15 minute breaks every 4 hours, no half hour dinner break, and the employee meal the restaurant was required to provide in lieu of that time was always turkey, mashed potatoes, and green beans. every night for over 8 years. I quickly learned to eat before work and then bribed somebody on the line for a real meal after work. the floor staff had to be there an hour early to polish the tableware and glassware, off the clock. I also had to tip out my busboy and the bartenders at the end of the night. all the 16 year old busboys that worked the joint got minimum wage and tipped by the servers, and to add insult to injury, almost all of them drove new cars. they made more than servers working run of the mill restaurants in town.

don't get me wrong, I loved the job because of the people I worked with. I looked forward to going to work every night because it was so much fun. it was very hard, very stressful, but I learned so much about dealing with the public. I ended up with many long term friendships from that place. in the end, corporate came in because the place was the most successful among the others across the nation and started sniffing around hoping to improve on near perfection. (fucking it all up for everyone that worked there) then all the old pros started leaving and it eventually went downhill. I bailed when they opened for lunch and I was told I would be giving up some dinner shifts. (smaller check average = less tips) uh, nope. lunch idea flopped. then the place got sold and demoed because the dirt where it was sitting in town was worth more. 

the restaurant industry has a powerful DC lobby that's been very oppressive to hourly employees for years. if restaurant owners want professional kitchen and service people that are able to make customers satisfied enough to want to return there again and again, they need to step up to the pump and pay the help. astute owners in it for the long haul realize this and are addressing those issues in their help wanted ads now. those owners that ignore the sweeping changes engulfing the industry, should probably think about buying a fast food franchise.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
2.2.6  Kavika   replied to  pat wilson @2.2.2    one month ago

I remember some really fine restaurants in OC. I used to enjoy the Pelican Grill and the Watertable.

 
 
 
Trout Giggles
Professor Principal
2.2.7  Trout Giggles  replied to  devangelical @2.2.5    one month ago

I never worked in a high end restaurant just a pizza joint and a couple of diners. I made lots of money at the pizza joint because we sold wine and beer. The diners not so much.It was a stressful job.

Then I started bartending. Better pay and tips but still stressful. Dealing with drunks night after night will make you glad you are going to school so you can get out of the service industry

 
 
 
devangelical
PhD Principal
2.2.8  devangelical  replied to  Trout Giggles @2.2.7    one month ago

you definitely get to deal with some assholes in the restaurant biz. the smart ones know to hold their tongues until the food is served. the dumb ones discovered mysterious additional charges on their credit card statements the next month. 15% tip versus a very time consuming and ongoing dispute against MC/Visa/AX a month later? gee, that's a tough one. assholes should remember to ask for those carbons because late night TV wasn't too particular about who was calling those 1-800 numbers. please allow 6 weeks for delivery to a bogus address. call it a karma kick start.

 
 
 
Paula Bartholomew
Professor Guide
2.2.9  Paula Bartholomew  replied to  JBB @2.2.1    one month ago

That is why I am a good tipper, to show them they are appreciated.

 
 
 
JohnRussell
Professor Principal
2.2.10  JohnRussell  replied to  pat wilson @2.2    one month ago

My niece was not tremendously experienced. She had worked at a Top Golf location for about a year while going to junior college.  Then she started working at the restaurant. Her mother told me that she was a server at one of the top seafood restaurants in San Antonio. What that means exactly I dont know. I know her waitress uniform was a tuxedo (without the coat).  I know members of the Spurs NBA team are known to eat there or get takeout. 

My niece was making what would be the equivalent of 25,000 a year . 

 
 
 
JohnRussell
Professor Principal
2.2.11  JohnRussell  replied to  JohnRussell @2.2.10    one month ago

Individual servers do not get to keep their tips. It all goes into a kitty every night that is split up between the servers, the busboys, the bartenders and the managers. Also this particular restaurant does not automatically add a tip to the bill, regardless of the size of the dining party. 

 
 
 
JohnRussell
Professor Principal
2.2.12  JohnRussell  replied to  JohnRussell @2.2.11    one month ago

I see people saying that servers can make this good money or that good money depending on .... whatever. 

When you have an industry where people who essentially do the same job make vastly different sums of money, you have a problematic industry, unless you are professional athletes who get paid based on how well they can COMPETE. 

 
 
 
devangelical
PhD Principal
2.2.13  devangelical  replied to  Paula Bartholomew @2.2.9    one month ago

regular customers that tip well are known to a stable wait staff and they usually receive perks. if you have a favorite server in a place that you frequent, don't be shy and ask to sit in their station. you won't ever regret it.

the last 3 years I worked at the restaurant, I rarely had a stranger in my station on weekends. I would cruise the lounge looking for my familiar customers waiting to be seated and would bring them their favorite drinks, without them having to remind me what those were. I would get their well behaved kids free desserts after dinner. all with my manager's approval, because he knew the value of loyal customers that I had already lubricated with expensive liquor. I would fawn over all the birthday grannys and tell them how nice they were to bring their dads (husbands) along with them. it was theater and for 90 minutes I was their star. I walked around insulting them with a smile on my face and they fucking threw money at me. I was young and it was the most fun job a smart ass ever had.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
2.2.14  Kavika   replied to  devangelical @2.2.13    one month ago
I would get their well behaved kids free desserts after dinner.

And how did you handle the not well behaved kids?

W.C. Fields way?

 
 
 
devangelical
PhD Principal
2.2.15  devangelical  replied to  Kavika @2.2.14    one month ago

bwah ha ha, no. it was simple, there was no childrens menu. if they had a hole under their nose, they paid the same prices as everyone else. on the extremely rare occasion any child did become unruly, management had a discreet word with their guardians and they were given 2 choices. fix it or exit.

 
 
 
Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
3  Buzz of the Orient    one month ago

I bet there's a lot of people sitting at the border who would give their eye teeth to do those jobs, and minimum wage for them would be a godsend if they were to get that much. 

 
 
 
shona1
Sophomore Participates
3.1  shona1  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @3    one month ago

The minimum wage here is $20.33 per hour. We really don't do tipping as it was never done here. It was always regarded as an American thing. But some places encourage it..

 
 
 
Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
3.1.1  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  shona1 @3.1    one month ago

Tipping is unheard of here as well. 

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
3.1.2  Kavika   replied to  shona1 @3.1    one month ago
It was always regarded as an American thing.

Certainly is in Australia and much of Asia as well. 

 
 
 
Paula Bartholomew
Professor Guide
3.1.3  Paula Bartholomew  replied to  shona1 @3.1    one month ago

TIPS stands for To Insure Proper Service.

 
 
 
shona1
Sophomore Participates
3.1.4  shona1  replied to  Paula Bartholomew @3.1.3    one month ago

Morning... everyone here always had a minimum wage that was high enough that people did not have to rely on tips regardless of service...

If you do a crap job people complain to the manager and expect to be fired. So your choice.

No one expected a tip and if you did you were regarded as strange or American and often the money was handed back.

It was almost regarded as insulting. A very firm we do not tip here would be stated.

Probably only in the last 15 odd years it has sort of come in but still not expected and majourity of people still do not do it.

If you want staff most will pay above award wages to get them as is the case at the moment due to the shortage.

Due to pandemic at one stage the unemployed here were collecting $700 per week...hell they were getting more than me on my retirement payment...

 
 
 
JohnRussell
Professor Principal
3.2  JohnRussell  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @3    one month ago

so you think people should work for nothing because if they dont someone else will.  is that really what you are trying to say buzz? 

 
 
 
Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
3.2.1  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  JohnRussell @3.2    one month ago

Please point out to me where I said that ANYONE would work for nothing.  

 
 
 
Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
3.2.2  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @3.2.1    4 weeks ago

Waited a day - crickets.  So much for unfounded accusations, and I'm not even China.

 
 
 
Baron Creek
Sophomore Participates
4  Baron Creek    one month ago

Pre-pandemic:

  • My wife and I would try to beat the rush and often ended up with long wait times, when there were clearly emply areas in the restaurant. Restaurants staff for the rush... always have.
  • We would be told 15~30 minutes and yet wait for over an hour. That was for a party of two. 

Current (from observation, as I order carryout):

  • I overheard someone being told the wait time was about 15 minutes and many crammed into the waiting area groaned and made remarks about how long they had already been waiting. (I am not sure of party size, which is important.)

Certainly I can't speak for the entire nation and I won't challenge the premise of difficulty in hiring in some cases, but... I wonder how much of typical pre-pandemic restaurant issues are being conveniently blamed on staffing. It is an American tradition, imo, to blame it on the worker or in this case... the person too lazy to work. 

 
 
 
sandy-2021492
Professor Principal
5  sandy-2021492    4 weeks ago

My son got his first job at our local Arby's.  Last night, he said 3 customers threw tantrums during his 6-hour shift.  One cussed out an employee.  Nobody wants to put up with this type of behavior anymore, and wait staff were always the first to be targeted.

Can't say I blame them.

 
 
 
Hal A. Lujah
Professor Expert
6  Hal A. Lujah    4 weeks ago

I never did mind tipping for meal service, but I’m getting sick of every single food or drink related  transaction coming with a tip line on the bill.  Since the pandemic I have read that it is now considered standard practice to tip for take out food.  That’s bullshit.  You didn’t take my order, fill my drink, bring me my meal on a plate, ensure that I was satisfied with the food, ask if you could get me anything else, etc. - you handed me a bag through my car window so I could drive home and open up a bunch of styrofoam boxes of tepid food to see if it was even the right order.  And you want 15% for that?  Hell no.  

 
 
 
devangelical
PhD Principal
6.1  devangelical  replied to  Hal A. Lujah @6    4 weeks ago

I agree, that's bullshit, and we both know whose pocket that money is ending up in.

 
 
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