I reached out to the editor of the Coachella Valley Independent in sheer frustration.
I was actually calling to leave his colleague a voicemail, in response to an article about difficulties many restaurants are having finding employees. To me, the piece came off slightly one sided, and it hit some nerves. Two of the restaurant owners complaining in the piece had each denied my applications twice, without even an interview.
I have more than 25 years of experience in the hospitality/food and beverage industry, ranging from restaurants with Michelin stars to private yacht clubs, from hotels to three different coffee houses. I’m accountable, experienced and adaptable; I don’t need to be micro-managed. I have a deep-rooted desire to make sure my guests have the best experience possible. My résumé and recommendation letters back this up. I do not claim to be the best, but I know what I bring to the table.
The pandemic changed everything—except, it seems, many employers’ expectations and demands. Some of them act like the pandemic never happened. During one interview I had in the midst of a strict lockdown, the interviewer’s mask was below the nose. Many employers are completely unwilling to work with people’s schedules. Others are asking prospective staff members to do the work of two or three people—without appropriate compensation or support.
The last job I had, which lasted less than two months, was at a hotel restaurant. That entire time, we were extremely short-staffed and over-booked. On one particularly busy night, after I told my manager about a mistake I made—I forgot to put in a sandwich order for one table—he responded by belittling, berating and swearing at me, in front of the entire kitchen staff. I filed a complaint with human resources and said I was no longer comfortable working with that manager, yet I was still scheduled with him.
Staff members were threatened with write-ups if we didn’t take our legally required breaks—even though we did not have enough staff support to even take a 10-minute break, let alone a half-hour meal break.
It’s worth noting that since I left that job, it’s gotten harder to get interviews. This industry is very connected, so it is possible I’ve been unofficially black-listed. Here are a few lowlights from my job search:
• I accepted a job offer on a Tuesday—only to be ghosted by the manager when I tried to contact her for a training schedule. More than a week later, she finally called to apologize for the delayed response—and told me the position was no longer available. How is this OK?
• At another interview, the manager talked about how busy the place was, and said a lot of her staff members had refused to come back due to the unemployment benefits. After she mentioned additional responsibilities that go well beyond the scope of the server position for which I was interviewing, I asked if there was any wiggle room on the minimum wage being offered. Her response: “No! You make tips.”
• At yet another interview, I was shut down after I said I needed every other weekend off due to family commitments. Even though I am completely available otherwise, even on holidays, the interview went no further.
So … what needs to happen? It’s simple: The close-minded, pre-pandemic thinking of many restaurant owners and managers has got to end. They need to be willing to work with job-seekers who may have scheduling obstacles. They need to realize that good, quality hospitality workers are worth more than minimum wage—especially if they’re being asked to go above and beyond. They should be willing to have their employees’ back—especially regarding abusive customers. It’s amazing what employees will do for an employer who values them.
As of this writing, I don’t have an income. (The editor is allowing me to write this commentary without using my name, so it doesn’t hinder my job search.) I have not yet been approved for unemployment, and I have $7 in my checking account. But, hey, I’m just lazy, and don’t want to work, right?
That couldn’t be further from the truth. I want to work, and so do countless others in our industry; the Facebook industry support pages I’m a part of prove this. We just want to be valued, fairly compensated, and maybe, just maybe—after a year and a half that’s pushed all of us to our limits—shown a little humanity.