When the pandemic shutdown and subsequent mitigation requirements threatened the livelihood of local restaurants, the community responded in a big way. Special initiatives, creative B2B partnerships, and an overall commitment to “support local” gave a boost to restaurants in their time of need. As businesses reopened, dine-in customers returned and travel resumed, restaurants and hotels found themselves faced with another crisis – a labor shortage unlike any the industry has ever experienced. Workforce woes are not just a local concern. Nationwide, the hospitality sector lost 2.5 million jobs in 2020, and was still down more than 1.5 million jobs as of June 2021. At the height of the pandemic, Centre County lost 1,600 workers. [The emergence of the Delta variant adds yet another layer of uncertainty on top of a still challenging operating environment.]
"The hospitality industry is an important segment of our local economy. When it needed champions in 2020, the community was there. It still needs champions – consider being one!"
Fritz Smith, President and CEO, The Happy Valley Adventure Bureau
Throughout Centre County, “help wanted” and “now hiring” signs can be seen just about everywhere.
While there are many reasons why the hospitality industry labor shortage is so pronounced, it nonetheless weighs heavily on our existing establishments, those that bravely opened during the pandemic, and those that have just or are about to open their doors.
The return of fans to Beaver Stadium this fall is much welcomed news that also comes with some trepidation about providing the same level of Happy Valley hospitality visitors have come to know. The desire to do so has never wavered. The challenge for many establishments is doing so with reduced, new and often overwhelmed staff. Recent traveler mindset surveys have made it clear that people are ready to travel, and they expect “pre-pandemic levels of service.”
It is time to re-energize the “support local” rallying cry. Only this time, the hospitality industry’s need for assistance goes beyond financial. Below are several ways the community can help:
Consider part-time or full-time employment in hospitality
Local chefs, restaurant owners and hoteliers are up front in saying that hospitality is not always the easiest industry – COVID proved that true – but they agree that it is extremely gratifying, and can take those who work in it places where their creative energy leads. Particularly now, the industry offers ample opportunities for advancement for creative, hard-working and motivated people willing to give it a try. Working in this sector is also a great way to meet people and make valuable connections. Every position, from back of house to management, full or part-time, is critical to delivering a satisfying customer and visitor experience.
It might take a bit longer to get your favorite meal to your table or drink from the bar. Wait staff likely is overwhelmed, and in many cases, new and learning. That inexperienced server is the future star employee the business has been desperately trying to hire. That new waiter or busser might actually be the manager doing their part to help their team meet customer demands.
Anyone interested in Happy Valley’s amazing food and dining scene will find an abundance of social media sites dedicated to the topic. It’s a great platform to lift restaurants up…or unfairly tear them down. Rethink posting about that “negative experience” where you had an extra wait for food, the staff seemed stressed or too “green,” or when lodging check-in took too long. This particularly holds true for newly opened establishments, which typically have a few kinks to iron out early on without the compounded burden of a lingering pandemic and historic labor shortage.
Pass it on
Post positive reviews of your dining experiences or hotel/bed and breakfast stays. Share photos of a delicious meal or cocktail. If you had to wait a bit longer, let others know why it was worth it.
The hospitality industry is an important segment of our local economy. When it needed champions in 2020, the community was there. It still needs champions – consider being one!