Main Street in Patchogue is no exception to the lack of employees applying for restaurant jobs across the country amid the COVID pandemic.
“We are seeing it firsthand,” said John Murray III, owner of Kilwins in Patchogue and the Hero Joint. “We are struggling, business is coming in and the workers are just not here.”
In an effort to help find employees, Murray has banded together with the Patchogue Chamber of Commerce Restaurant Committee for a “job crawl,” scheduled for Wednesday, May 26. People are encouraged to bring multiple copies of their resume and drop it off to any and all of the restaurants or participating businesses on Main Street.
Murray said he attributes the lack of workers to the increase in unemployment benefits. The Biden administration extended the federal unemployment benefits through Sept. 6 as part of its coronavirus relief legislation, providing an additional $300 per week on top of state aid, which can equate to over the $14.50, soon to be $15, minimum wage.
However, according to Murray, potential employees are not even coming out to apply and negotiate their salary, which, depending on experience, could be higher than the minimum wage.
“People are making a lot of money to stay home,” he said. “It’s tough to compete.”
One of the main issues, he added, is overworked staff that have limited days off.
“At a certain point, quality starts to drop and people get burnt out,” he continued.
Pre-COVID, his sandwich shop had about 18 employees, whereas he is down to about a dozen now. In addition to the job crawl, he hopes to inspire other restaurant owners to write letters to local politicians to encourage the government to remove the additional $300 earlier than September.
James Bonanno, restaurant committee chair and owner of the Tap Room, agreed, stating almost all of the Main Street restaurants have been dealing with staffing issues and have been trying to hire all positions, but cannot find applicants. He also noted that many positions are over minimum wage with competitive rates based on job positions.
“If I am short one or two cooks,” that is a big difference. “I need to have the others make up for that. The business incurs overtime pay it can’t afford.”
Mayor Paul Pontieri also accredited the lack of employees to the additional unemployment funding, understanding that that restaurant staff’s wages are often equivalent to the benefits. He also made note of the increased minimum wage and forced overtime, making it more difficult for restaurants to afford payroll with reduced staff.
“I think that if you are a waitress or waiter looking for a job, Patchogue is the place to come to because you know your job is going to be secure,” he said, hoping to entice workers to the Main Street businesses. “The strength of the economy on Main Street is not comparable to any within the region.”
Chamber of commerce executive director David Kennedy agreed, stating that this is the perfect time for returning college students to find a job over the summer.
“Thankfully we are reopening, but they are having a hard time getting staff,” he said. “The chamber hopes they will suspend the additional $300 a week benefit. It was good when people were forced to stay home and jobs weren’t available, but we’re in a world where that isn’t the case and jobs are readily available,” he added. “A Friday and Saturday night looks pretty normal in Patchogue. We are really grateful for that, but there is stress for these restaurant owners to maintain a good service.”
Visit www.patchogue.com for more information; the crawl starts at noon.
“I would say anyone looking for a job should stop into any Main Street business,” Murray added. “They have their pick of the litter and [opportunity] to make a good amount of money.”