Minnesota restaurants and hotels are encouraging customers to make early reservations as the holidays approach | Catch My Job



Like it or not, there will be fewer people to help you this holiday season.

Donna Fahs, chief operating officer of Parasole Restaurants, had trouble finding restaurant managers earlier this year.

He was surprised by the increasing number of no-shows for interviews and the promising hires who give up after days. With properties that include Good Earth, Manny’s, Pittsburgh Blue and Salut and competitive salaries and benefits, Parasole has long attracted and retained strong management.

Things got to the point that Fahs said, “Phil Roberts, the CEO, would come in every morning and ask, ‘Did anyone leave?'”

When there was no answer, he said, “It’s a good day!”

The workforce shortage is the biggest challenge facing restaurants and hotels as they head into the busiest time of the year – the holidays.

To cope, restaurants are reducing hours, limiting their offerings, switching to counter service and aggressively hiring and training new staff when they can find them. Hotels have had more of a break as business travel has not fully recovered from the pandemic, reducing occupancy levels.

Hospitality executives are urging consumers to book vacations as soon as possible, especially on Saturday nights or to secure space for evening events.

As evenings book up quickly, Fahs recommends holding work celebrations at breakfast or lunch. Added bonus: Many employees prefer functions with colleagues during business hours. Expect higher prices, even when restaurants and hotels don’t pass on all of their increased costs.

Nearly 9 out of 10 hospitality businesses that responded to a recent survey by Hospitality Minnesota described labor availability as “tight.” The industry remains 17,000 workers below pre-pandemic levels, according to data from the Department of Employment and Economic Development.

“This is the most important issue I hear when I talk to people in the industry right now,” said Ben Wogsland, executive vice president of the Minnesota Hospitality industry trade group.

“Workforce is what keeps them up now,” he added. “Given the structural shortages going into the pandemic due to changing demographics, this will be the biggest issue in the industry going forward.”

At Baldamar in Roseville and Six Smith in Wayzata, owner Randy Stanley is using more carrots than sticks to keep employees these days. It emphasizes teamwork during training.

“If you hang over, for example, you learn about the pressure it puts on the rest of the team,” said Stanley. “It used to be one, two and three and you’re out. Now it’s more about helping build an understanding of the steps you take and what impact it has on everyone else.”

The average age of servers at his restaurants used to be about 40, Stanley said. Now, he sees many younger applicants.

“We lost about 15 to 20 years of experience. The good news is that the number of applicants has increased,” he said. “It has put more pressure on us to train effectively and we are spending more money on that.”

The workforce shortage has led to a combination of later opening hours and earlier closing times. That has been true across brands and in urban and suburban locations of Parasole restaurants.

Part of the reason for more limited hours is lack of staff; the other is employees who wish to have a balance between life and work, something restaurant owners have been forced to consider recently.

“Our bars in the Foshay, we used to stay open until 2,” said Fahs of the Living Room and Prohibition bars. “We close at 11 during the week and midnight at the weekends. The managers, they have families. They don’t want to stay out until 2 in the morning.”

More restaurants are emphasizing career paths to attract and retain employees.

Wogsland Hospitality Minnesota notes that wages have risen dramatically in this industry and hospitality can offer one of the fastest paths to management or entrepreneurship.

Morrissey Hospitality is rebranding its jobs as potential careers to attract employees, said Elizabeth Morrissey Brown, vice president of business development and marketing. The company manages hotels and restaurants, including the St. Paul and Water Street Inn in Stillwater.

“Yes, an hourly server or housekeeping role is a starting point, but you can grow and develop in this industry for a lifelong career,” she says.

Baldamar offers rigorous training for new employees as well as continuing education for professional development about food, wine and service so that the staff feel involved.

That’s what Sara Jacobson wanted. At 62, he returns to the hospitality industry after 15 years as an ultrasound technician. She said she wanted to work in a busy environment and learn the superior steakhouse service model.

Jacobson was in her second week of training recently following another waiter after a week in the classroom studying Baldamar’s menu, wine list and culture.

“I’m so happy to be back in the restaurant business and talking to people and making sure their dining experience is elevated.”


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