Restaurant staff remain hard to find in Newton, elsewhere due to COVID

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Staffing shortages have plagued the restaurant industry due to the COVID pandemic and the problem doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon, including at restaurants in Newton.

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Baramor owner Arpit Patel said that with the end of summer he had lost half of his reception staff (i.e. waiters, hosts, etc.). Seana Gaherin, owner of Dunn Gaherin’s, and Karl O’Hara, of Paddy’s Public House and O’Hara’s Food & Sprits have both had to reduce the number of days they can stay open due to understaffing.

In 36 years working in the restaurant industry, O’Hara said, “I’ve never seen this.”

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“Everyone is fighting for a reduced labor pool,” said Gaherin, who can only open one meal a day, five days a week due to the issue. “We only have one crew. We don’t have the capacity to staff the kitchen for a six day work week.

The problem is compounded in parts of Newton by poor public transportation and a lack of parking spaces.

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Patel said workers at his Newton Center restaurant who were driving had to leave Baramor every few hours to move their cars and park elsewhere.

When staff members without transportation work long hours, Patel will cover an Uber ride, “but it’s not a sustainable business model” to do so every shift.

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For kitchen workers who come to Newton from north Boston by public transit, “it takes them two hours to get there,” Gaherin said. And even if they’re driving, “there’s nowhere to park.”

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In July, the city’s Traffic Board heard a request to change time limits in municipal off-street parking areas and possibly change parking regulations on certain streets to launch a trial permit permit plan. parking for Newton Center employees, according to its agenda. However, nothing has been decided yet and if a change is approved, it would not alleviate parking problems in the rest of the city.

Contributing factors

Many other businesses depend on automation to operate, said Bob Luz, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association. Food service is labor intensive and cannot be done remotely, he said.

Another factor contributing to understaffing is salary. In Massachusetts, the minimum wage is $13.50 an hour, which equates to an annual salary of about $28,000. Tipped workers, such as servers, must only be paid at least $5.55 an hour in the state (which is $3.42 more than the minimum required under federal law on fair labor standards).

Many companies offer incentives such as bonuses to attract workers, Luz said, and it can be worth standing out from the crowd. Gaherin raised salaries, and O’Hara said he offered bonuses to staff members who took on new recruits.

Still, it will take time for the supply chain to catch up with demand, Luz said, and he thinks more workers will return to restaurant jobs when fall arrives and children return to school.

Regarding expanded unemployment benefits, which are due to expire in September, some believe restaurant workers are making more money staying at home, but Luz said it was unclear how many were not working. not for that reason or whether it was due to other factors.

“If they just shut down unemployment,” people would find jobs, O’Hara said.

According to a Business Insider study this spring using data from the U.S. Jobs and Training Administration, total average weekly state and federal benefits were lower than average weekly earnings — but not by much — in 47 States.

In Massachusetts, the average weekly benefit is about $469, about $70 less than someone would earn at minimum wage.

“We don’t think a lot of employees (choose unemployment over work), honestly,” Luz said. He thinks there are usually other issues to consider, such as the lack of child care and virtual schooling that falls primarily on women. .

In Baramor’s case, Patel said many of the workers who left are students returning to school in the fall.

Gaherin speculated that many people like to work remotely because being in person carries the added risk of being exposed to illnesses.

“I love hospitality” and I want customers “to always have that human touch…. I never want us to lose that,” she said, though she worries that “ many places will not be able to survive this”.

MetroWest Daily News reporter Lauren Young contributed to this report.

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