With only two people behind the counter at The Hero Joint in Patchogue during lunchtime Wednesday, owner John Murray was left to take out the trash.
He like many restaurant owners and managers were hoping to be busy interviewing new applicants this afternoon, as the Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce Restaurant Committee promoted a job crawl to take place from noon to 4 p.m. today to bring prospective employees into the village.
Murray said he heard of a similar hiring event that happened in Bay Shore, and mentioned the idea in a recent Restaurant Committee meeting. “Everybody’s had the same sort of problem and I just forced the issue,” Murray, who also owns Kilwins, said. “What are we gonna do about it guys? How are we gonna be proactive?”
The proactive measure Murray and other Patchogue job crawl participants are taking comes at a time when business owners around the island and across the country have expressed concerns of a worker shortage as COVID-19 restrictions weaken and life returns to normal.
For the Village of Patchogue, normal means diners and bar-hoppers a-plenty, especially during the summer season.
“The restaurants are full,” David Kennedy, executive director of the Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce, said. “If you come out on a Friday or Saturday night they’re packed, people are out and they’re celebrated that were getting to the end of this pandemic. But the restaurants are having a hard time getting staffed.”
At least 17 restaurants participated in Wednesday’s job crawl, including Hero Joint, Aroogas, That Meatball Place and The Cuban. While Main Street was not cladded with help wanted signs Wednesday, many owners and managers said they have advertised job openings and the job crawl event on social media as traffic picks up.
“We’re getting into our busy season with masks being lifted a bit for vaccinated individuals,” said Charles Gomes, a managing partner of Aroogas, standing out on Main Street seeking new hires.
Lately, Gomes said the sports bar crowd has been filing the establishment. “Sports right now in New York is on fire. The Islander, Knicks, Mets, Yankees, so we’re starting to get really busy. Hopefully, we’ll grab a handful of people today.”
“We’re looking for at least six to eight new employees from cooks to servers, hosts and food runners.”
Marisa Crecca, a manager at That Meatball Place said she was looking for two or three workers in the village as well as more for the restaurant’s Farmingdale location. All together, they are looking for eight to 10 new workers.
The Cuban is also looking to hire eight to 10 employees for different positions as the summer draws near. Kimberly Burke, the Cuban’s manager, said she is looking for kitchen staff, bartenders and servers.
Burke thinks the lingering health concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic may be contributing to the village’s restaurants’ struggle to find workers. “I don’t know if people are just scared to come back to this industry because of all the people you interact with,” Burke said. “We used to have a lot of applicants coming in all the time.”
Murray, on the other hand, believes people are not looking for food services positions due to the competitiveness of unemployment benefits enhanced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A lot of the frustration for myself and my colleagues is that we don’t even get to the point of discussing pay because the person doesn’t come in in the first place,” he said. “Everyone assumes these are minimum wage jobs, when somebody with experience would get paid a lot more than that.”
looking for a job on Main Street?
“If you didn’t make it today, they’re still hiring,” said Kennedy. “. Come tomorrow, the week after, there’s a likelihood that there are still job opportunities.”
The full list of participating restaurants still looking to hire can be found here.