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hospitality industry

Features

Hospitality Industry Feels 86’d

April 21, 2020

By Paul Samberg

Photo courtesy of Buffalo & Bergen/Photo by Rey Lopez

As COVID-19 continues to control the country, businesses are on life support, scrambling to pay the bills and employees. The allocation of $2.2 trillion in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act neglected most of the hospitality industry, many of which are struggling to keep their doors open while Americans stay home.

In particular, the portion of the CARES Act known as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) designed to support small business seems to be failing most independent bar owners and restaurateurs. All too quickly the $349 billion provided for this program dissipated, and the few businesses that received support from the program do not find themselves in a much better position than they previously were in.

Which is exactly what concerns the Food & Wine Best New Chef and James Beard Award-winning chef Andrew Carmellini as he sees the financial aid programs roll out and restaurant operations severely restricted or closed altogether. This seasoned operator, whose restaurant group includes such NYC favorites as Locanda Verde, The Dutch, Lafayette, Bar Primi, and The Library at The Public, shares, “The PPP doesn’t put us as operators in a better position than we were, and I’m not sure it will put employees in a better position.”

A recent survey conducted by the James Beard Foundation reflects that Carmellini’s colleagues are equally concerned. More than 60% of respondents cannot sustain a closure for one month and 75% do not believe they will be able to reopen after two months of government mandated closure.

For those 75% of respondents who are not confident they will be able to reopen in June— which marks the eight-week usage term set out by the PPP guidelines—this program would not help keep their businesses afloat.

Staying afloat once COVID-19 hit wasn’t even a question for Wake the Dead, a popular breakfast spot in Lawrence, Kansas, which closed its doors on March 20. Fearful about her underlying health conditions, owner Rachel Ulbrick did not want to endanger herself by coming to work, and the PPP did not offer a feasible solution to temporarily closing. “I already have a fair amount of debt. Even though [the loan] was like zero percent, in three years it wouldn’t be. And that would add $20,000 on top of whatever debt I already have; I can’t do that,” Ulbrick said.

The remaining 25% of respondents who believe they could reopen in June face a secondary issue, though: actually receiving the initial loan. The CARES Act provides close to $349 billion in aid to small businesses through the PPP, but was designed to be distributed on a first-come-first-serve application basis.

On the first day applications could be submitted, April 3, $4.3 billion of the $349 billion available in loans was immediately allocated and banks began limiting applications. Wells Fargo was the first; they announced they would not consider loan requests submitted after April 5.

With the early April dates behind us, and PPP filings not a possibility for some, there are other avenues within the CARES Act to pursue, such as new unemployment benefits. In addition to the current standard weekly unemployment payments, supplemental payments of $600 per week are provided as part of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation measure in the CARES Act. For self-employed and gig workers, they also qualify for extended 39-week benefits, which is 13 weeks more than normal eligibility.

While the supplemental payments are a help to many workers filing for unemployment, the unemployment websites and offices have been overwhelmed and the process can be slow, clunky and confusing. Some checks began going out to unemployed New Yorkers in early April, but Missouri did not plan on doing so until April 12, and Indiana residents may have to wait until as late as April 20.

No matter whether you’re in a state that makes provisions for unemployment payments early or later this month, there are some workers who may not even qualify for unemployment benefits. Even for those a stone’s throw from the Capitol, who count amongst their guests the same legislators who passed the CARES Act, restaurants like Buffalo & Bergen were not immune to being left high and dry by unemployment. Gina Chersevani, who founded and owns both the Buffalo & Bergen at Union Market and the newest on Capitol Hill which opened just weeks before the country shut down, explains, “We just got rejected. Out of 26 people from my one location that applied [for unemployment], only two were accepted, both not tipped employees.”

Chersevani also feels that insurance companies are failing the industry just as unemployment isn’t there for so many of her employees.

She’s discovered that her carrier will not pay disruption of business for COVID-19 and says, “I’m in my ninth year paying them—the same insurance company—and they denied all my claims for disruption of business.”

Chersevani is not the only owner in the hospitality industry who has had this issue, and, as a result, some restaurants are getting together to file class action lawsuits against insurance companies. Wolfgang Puck, Dominique Crenn, and a handful of other famous chefs have created the nonprofit foundation We Are BIG (Business Interruption Group), which is threatening to bring legal action against insurers who do not start paying insurance business claims.

According to founding member and chef Thomas Keller’s statement on the organization’s website, “The restaurant industry is the largest private sector employer in America…We need insurance companies to do the right thing and save millions of jobs.”

Photo by Francine Cohen

Many restaurant owners are in agreement with Keller and the other chefs taking legal action against insurance companies. Longtime New Orleans restaurateur and co-owner of Commander’s Palace Lally Brennan shares, “I very much agree with the efforts by Thomas Keller and others [to take legal action] and have the law changed around, because that’s not what America is about; that’s abusive.”

This fear felt by restaurant and bar owners and staff is not unfounded. An analyst at UBS predicts that one in five restaurants could permanently close due to the outbreak, which would mean nearly 200,000 establishments are in danger. Thus far, about three percent of restaurants have closed their doors, despite the recently passed stimulus package, according to the National Restaurant Association.

In the wake of ongoing hardship and potential lawsuits due to COVID-19 related regulations, and the failure of programs that are not one-size-fits-all, the industry does what it does best — turns within to help one another, especially when lawmakers cannot.

“We currently are ignored by lawmakers, which has been true for as long as we can remember. Case in point, our independently owned businesses have not been given a substantive seat at the table during Congressional relief conversations,” Chefs Andrew Carmellini, Luke Ostrom & Josh Pickard said in an email urging others to sign their Relief Opportunities for All Restaurants (ROAR) petition.

Chef Guy Fieri and the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation worked together to create a relief fund for restaurant workers who are struggling due to COVID-19. Their fund is raising money for those in need with one-time $500 grants. And big and small liquor brands like Jameson and actor Ryan Reynolds’ Aviation Gin have committed financial support to the USBG National Charity Foundation Bartender Emergency Relief Program’s Covid-19 Relief Campaign, which is offering needs-based philanthropic grants. Over a quarter million people have applied thus far.

Chef José Andrés is in week five of his #ChefsforAmerica campaign through his World Central Kitchen foundation. He has closed his restaurants, turning them into community feeding centers for people facing food insecurity due to COVID-19 related lost income. To date he has served 2 million meals.

Brennan and her cousin and co-owner, Ti Martin, are concerned about their team, many of whom have been with the iconic restaurant for more than a decade. They have been providing their recently laid off workers with food and other basic needs during the crisis, too. Brennan shares, “We gave away bags of vegetables and all the perishable items and things that we had cooked, and we’re giving away bags of toiletries and paper and paper towels and hand sanitizer. We’re doing all those types of things with the team to still stay in touch.”

Philanthropy for the hospitality industry is not just coming internally. Twitter personality Yashar Ali opened a GoFundMe to support restaurant workers. On his Instagram account he explains, “Restaurants have closed or are offering only takeout and delivery options, hotel business has slowed dramatically, and bars have been shuttered. As a result, people who rely on hourly wages (including those who rely on tips) are suffering, having seen their daily income all but disappear overnight, and for some already losing their jobs.”

Photo by Francine Cohen

Ali has already amassed over $1.1 from more than 8,900 donors, surpassing his goal of raising $1.1 million to be directed to Tipping Point Community and Robin Hood, two established foundations long dedicated to serving those in need.

Independent bars and restaurants need help. The future of COVID-19 is uncertain, and so is the future of many restaurants and bars in the nation. While many owners have had to close their doors forever, others are trying not to follow in their footsteps. The hospitality industry should not have to rely on famous chefs and Twitter personalities to help keep their doors open.

These days, it feels like an insurmountable task as Gina Chersevani concludes, “We are risking our lives serving f**king sandwiches.”

Photo courtesy of Wake the Dead

Features

BARS & RESTAURANTS AND THEIR STAFF ARE STRUGGLING DURING THE PANDEMIC. YOU CAN HELP…

April 21, 2020

CHEFS, SERVERS AND BARTENDERS TAKE CARE OF YOU. NOW THAT BARS & RESTAURANTS ARE CLOSED YOU CAN TAKE CARE OF THEM. HERE IS HOW YOU CAN HELP

Even as states like Georgia are early to open, much of the country remains in lockdown, compounding lost wages and heightening poverty issues such as housing and food insecurity. When the country comes back to business it could be months and months before those working in the hospitality industry find their financial footing once again. If at all.

In preserving the lives and livelihoods of those who are always there to serve you, your help can make a difference. Explore these links below to see how:

NATIONWIDE RESOURCES
https://www.barmagic.com/relief

GOFUNDME
Courtesy of Camila Fernandez (formerly of Osamil, NYC)
1. Osamil link: https://www.gofundme.com/f/1xnrl3duo0
2. SoHo Restaurant & Bar (Ecuador) link: https://www.gofundme.com/f/support-for-soho-team

FOUNDATIONS/501C3
USBG (United States Bartenders Guild) – https://www.usbgfoundation.org/

Features

LIFE LESSONS

December 6, 2012

10 Things Being a Waiter Has Taught Me
By The Bitchy Waiter

Our colleague, The Bitchy Waiter, has plenty to say about life on the floor. Some of it you may have even said yourself. Whatever the case, these insights shared in this column are great life lessons worth embracing as you engage in the business of hospitality. Read, learn, enjoy!

Working in restaurants for the better part of two decades has done a lot for me. True, it has given me a life-long disdain of lemons in water but there are many positive aspects that have come out of slinging hash for this many years. As I get older, I realize that many of the things I have learned in restaurants have carried over to my regular life and made me a better person.

1. Save for a rainy day. When most of your income depends on fluctuating tips, you get pretty good at holding on to money once you have it. A really great Friday night shift where you walk home with $250 can be followed by a Saturday morning shift during a blizzard where no one comes in and you only make twenty bucks. Waiting tables has taught me how to count my pennies and save what I make because you never know when the financial rug will be pulled out from under you. Or when the only people who sit in your station are going to think a dollar is still a decent tip.

2. How to make small talk. Going into any situation where you are surrounded by strangers can be difficult. Whether it’s a party, a new job or a meeting, the first impression you make is a lasting one. Being a waiter has given me the skills to make conversation with anyone and everyone and I don’t get nervous when I have to talk to strangers. It’s as easy as asking them how they would like their burger cooked. When all else fails, compliment their outfit.

3. Don’t sweat the small stuff. There was a time when I was a newbie and I would run into the kitchen to stress out until the burger for table 12 was ready. One day, an older server told me something I will never forget: “It’s just lunch. There will be another one tomorrow and there is no such thing as a lunch emergency.” I have carried that calming thought outside of the restaurant. When I am stuck on the train or in traffic or in a long line at the store, all I have to remember is that in the scope of world events, this is probably not a very big deal.

4. How to get along with others. A restaurant staff is ever-changing. People come and go and you never know who you will be working with each shift since it’s very seldom that you have a set schedule. Because of that, some days you work with people you like and some days you don’t. But working in a restaurant requires teamwork. Whether you like everyone or not, you still may need to ask someone to water your table and they will ask you to take some bread somewhere. You quickly figure out that it’s easier to just get along than it is to not. Suck it up. You don’t have to like everyone, but it’s pretty easy to get along with everyone.

5. Time management. Having a station full of people all needing things at the same time is a real lesson in making the best use of your time. If table 1 needs to have their cocktails rung in and table 2 needs more water and table 3 needs a spoon for their dessert that will be up any minute, you get real good at figuring out which one is the most important. (The spoon. Duh.)

6. Multi-tasking. This goes right along with time management. If you ring in the drinks and then grab the water pitcher on your way to the side stand to get spoons, you can then drop the spoons at table 3, fill the waters at table 2 and then breeze by table 1 to tell them their drinks are on the way. This is handy in the real world at places like grocery stores, malls and while cleaning your apartment.

7. A smile will get you far in life. When someone sits in my station and has a sour-puss look on their face and then tells me they want the happy hour price for their beer even though happy hour ended five minutes ago, I am not going to do it. In contrast, if someone is friendly and smiling and asks nicely, it is very possible that I will simply hit the happy hour beer price for them. A smile makes a huge difference.

8. How to treat other people. Being in a position of subservience really teaches you how to treat others. When I am treated poorly, it’s very obvious that the person doing the mistreating is used to having people to push around. I know what it’s like to be told what to do and to never hear the words “please” or “thank you.” When I am out in the real world, I make certain that I always make eye contact with anyone who is doing something for me and I make frequent use of “please and “thank you.” We are all people and we all deserve to be treated kindly. Servers know that. Vice Presidents of big corporations? Not so much.

9. Patience. It’s not easy to have patience when a three year old at your table wants to order for herself. The mom is saying, “You can do it, honey. Tell the man what you want,” but I can feel the stares of the four other tables who are needing my attention as well. Patience is learned and when your income is dependent on how patient and attentive you are, it’s learned quickly. That’s why when I am at the grocery store in the 10 Items or Less line stuck behind a senior citizen who has 15 items, I know to breathe deep and let it go. Patience is a virtue. Learn it.

10. Good shoes. I am on my feet all day and the shoes I wear are very important to my health and well-being. Cheap shoes don’t support your soles and they fall apart too soon. Waiting tables has taught me to spend the extra 25 bucks for the better shoes. They last longer, they look better, and they are more comfortable. Wear good shoes.

My point of writing this is to let everyone know that no matter what job you are in, there are things you can learn. These are just ten lessons from waiting tables. If you are a server, please share this and then share the lessons you have learned from your job. Every job can teach us something that can make us better people. We just have to open our eyes and recognize what it is we are being taught.

For more invaluable life (and work) lessons, check out Bitchy Waiter at: www.thebitchywaiter.blogspot.com.

Features

YOU WANT A WINNING PICTURE

August 9, 2012

10 Profile Photo Dos and Don’ts
By Julie Lerner, co-founder, EatDrinkJobs.com

A lot of people ask us what employers look for in the right employee. This is a universal question and it certainly varies from industry to industry. However, in the restaurant biz it helps to be organized, energetic, and above all, put together.

What do we mean by this? To be frank: no one wants to hire you if you look like Snooki. No one’s asking for a professional headshot, but it helps to include a photo that gives a clear perception of your overall, organized, professional appearance that we know is in there.

Here’s a list of ten dos and don’ts when it comes to profile pictures:

DON’T!
– Don’t use a picture of yourself partying (the only time your photos should include alcohol is if you’re doing the pouring).

– Nothing too personal. Save it for your Match.com profile.

– Try to stay away from pictures with other people. Otherwise how will we know which one is you?

– Blurry or distorted pictures – we want to SEE you.

– Baby pics? We think not.

DO!
– Take a clear, color photo.

– SMILE – remember, you want this job.

– Try to look professional. There’s no such thing as pajama-casual.

– Use a current photo.

– Have someone else take it – no cell phone, kissy pics please.

It’s not rocket science, guys. You don’t have to be Ansel Adams; just point, click, shoot!

Happy hunting!

** EatDrinkJobs is the premier community driven place to find a job in the restaurant and bar industry. Job seekers create profiles with recommendations from peers, managers, and owners. Having former colleagues highlighting your best qualities ensures that your resume gets to the top of the stack. The best jobs for the best people!

For more information, to get hired, or to reach the best candidates, log onto www.eatdrinkjobs.com.