Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
And maybe Wednesdays, too.
Call them signs of the pandemic times — surefire indicators of a worker shortage in New Mexico’s restaurant industry.
The problem has become so acute that the New Mexico Restaurant Association has launched an internet advertising campaign to woo back both former employees who have been without jobs and newcomers eager to land one.
The “Hungry for Success” campaign includes a 30-second promotional video showing people at work at various restaurant jobs.
“If you’re a New Mexican that’s hungry for success, the New Mexico Restaurant Association has plenty of room at the table for you,” the narrator says at the outset of the spot.
The commercial and accompanying flier the association have created stress on-the-job training opportunities, the “fast-paced” work environment and the fact that one-third of all Americans have said their first job was in a restaurant.
Carol Wight, chief executive officer of the restaurant association, said the goal of the campaign is to “get people to look at the restaurant industry as they go back into the workforce.”
She said while people may have taken time to rethink their career choices while they were unemployed, she hopes the campaign convinces those looking for work “restaurants are the place they need to go.”
She said with so many restaurants around the state needing help, the chances of getting a job — even for those who have never worked in a restaurant or do not have a high school diploma — are “better than 50-50.”
The campaign is timed to grab attention as Sept. 4 — the date when federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits come to an end — approaches. Workers may get one more weekly unemployment check after that, but many will be looking for work by mid-September.
According to New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions statistics, in mid-August, 5,800 unemployed workers fell into the food service and preparation category. The unemployment peak for that industry was 23,500 in June 2020.
Wight said those workers were laid off as businesses closed down during the pandemic.
“God bless them,” she said of those employees. “We shut down three, four different times last year, and they were laid off. They may be a little gun shy to come back to work.”
On Wednesday, the association’s members plan a webinar meeting with Ricky Serna, head of Workforce Solutions, to talk about what the end of the federal unemployment benefits may mean for filling positions in the restaurant industry and how Serna’s agency can help connect people looking for work.
The association also is collecting job opening information from restaurants from around the state and posting them on a job board site to encourage people to apply for those openings.
Working the front desk at the Inn of the Governors, Sam Gerberding has seen firsthand the astonished looks on visitors’ faces when he tells them there aren’t that many Santa Fe restaurants open on Mondays and Tuesdays.
The longtime Inn of the Governors employee and officer of the Greater Santa Fe Restaurant Association is well aware of the staffing shortages affecting restaurant operations in the city and elsewhere. He said when he explains the challenge to visitors — most of whom have heard of similar problems in other parts of the country — they get it.
“They say, ‘Oh, that makes sense,’ ” Gerberding said during a phone interview Monday.
He said he can usually help them find one of the few restaurants that remain open on Mondays or Tuesdays.
Gerberding said restaurant employers have to ensure they don’t overwork their current employees.
“We are certainly paying a lot of overtime; we have a lot of staff working very, very hard,” he said. “It’s a big risk. The overtime money is real — a big amount that, if I could avoid, I would prefer to. And seeing my staff feeling exhausted is difficult.”
He said it will be interesting to see how the association’s efforts to lure employees plays out as coronavirus infections continue to hold steady, if not increase, across the state. That uncertainty could lead to less travel, less business and less need for as many employees — especially as the tourism season begins to wane.
“We’re back in a state of, ‘kind of not sure what to do,’ ” he said.
Molly Ryckman, vice president of sales and marketing for Heritage Hotels & Resorts, said there are about 250 positions available in her organization’s 13 New Mexico businesses.
She said she is supportive of the association’s efforts to hire more people.
“We are in a crunch all over,” she said. “All of our restaurants have been impacted by limited staffing and lack of folks coming back to work.”
Gerberding, who has worked at the Inn of the Governors for 17 years and has been in the restaurant industry for 25 years, said opportunities for success and advancement abound for people willing to give it a try.
“It’s not easy work,” he said. “It’s not. It’s very rewarding work. If you approach it from a place of service and look to the positive you would get back in this effort, it’s a great opportunity.”
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