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RIHA Column: Can I Bother You for Some Help?

Dale J. Venturini, President and CEO of Rhode Island Hospitality Industry Association.

Dale J. Venturini, President and CEO of Rhode Island Hospitality Industry Association.

By Dale Venturini, President & CEO, RI Hospitality Association

An increasingly burgeoning situation, it is becoming more and more difficult for restaurants to retain quality employees for extended periods of time. With the busy summer season in full swing, many hospitality workers leave their shoulder-season jobs in search of high-volume, tourism-fueled locations as soon as the temperatures peak and sun is shining.

With more and more restaurants, food trucks and casual dining options popping up across Rhode Island, it seems that there are more jobs up for grabs than there are qualified candidates to fill those positions. According to data recently released by the United States Department of Labor, at the end of January, the country had approximately 7.6 million unfilled jobs, but only 6.5 million unemployed workers actively looking for employment options.

By the time these statistics had been released, it marked the 11th consecutive month in which the number of open jobs exceeded the number of those seeking employment. In a time where sufficient staffing has become a perpetual issue amongst businesses within the hospitality industry, we ask business owners and customers alike to have patience given the current state of affairs.

In recent years, we have seen an increase in Americans attending college and entering the white-collar workforce, while Baby Boomers are seemingly retiring in droves. Now, for the first time in decades, blue-collar workers have the upper hand in negotiations while demanding increased wages, better benefit packages and preferred schedules.

In 2017, The National Restaurant Association (NRA) reported that upward of 37% of its members complained that recruiting workers was their biggest logistical challenge, up from 15% in 2015. Traditionally, restaurant owners have not had to actively recruit workers, but that may be a trend that is starting to change.

With so many positions open and available, we are seeing a low level of commitment from a large percentage of hospitality employees who know that they are in high demand. After all, there is little motivation for a server to remain working in his/her current establishment for the duration of the busy summer season, full well knowing that they will most likely be hired back following the summer rush.

Business suffers significantly when customers are dissatisfied with poor service, or a change in the quality of the product that they have come to expect. There used to be a time when eager restaurant-goers would visit the same establishment time and time again, banking on a warm reception from staff members that they had known for years, while enjoying a meal that never failed to impress.

Now, with a high turnover of employees, it is becoming increasingly difficult to establish a lasting relationship between the customer and the brand. Between newly trained chefs preparing signature dishes and servers who may be a little green, customers are less inclined to declare their allegiance to one particular business and would much rather dine in restaurants that are typically out of their comfort zone.

At the Rhode Island Hospitality Association, it is our mission to provide our members with the necessary tools to ensure their businesses’ success. Through our many industry-leading training initiatives, we seek to empower hospitality workers by arming them with the training and tools they need, and to create viable candidates for the state’s many job openings at restaurants, hotels and other hospitality-centric establishments.

Although there is a shortage of workers at the moment, there is no reason that those who are looking for employment should not seek out and utilize the resources available to them via the RI Hospitality Association. We hope that our industry continues to thrive, and we will be here doing whatever we can to prop it up each step of the way.

Dale J. Venturini is the President & CEO of Rhode Island Hospitality Association. A veteran of more than 25 years in the hospitality industry, Venturini is considered by many to be the voice of the industry in the state of Rhode Island. She has been instrumental in improving the industry’s educational and training programs in the state, as well as enhancing the bottom line of the business she represents. Venturini splits her time between the office and the State House, a constant presence for her membership.

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