We all know that restaurants have taken a hit over the past two years. We see the “We’re Hiring!” signs plastered all over our Maine towns, the Facebook posts begging customers for the simple gift of patience and I’m sure we have all come across the heartbreaking news that one of our hometown favorites, those iconic mom and pops that we thought would never die, have done just that, and closed their doors for good. In nearly every sense, what is happening within the Maine service industry is a tragedy.
As someone who has been working within this industry throughout the past two years, I can tell you that even from within, the outlook is bleak. Pay is more inconsistent than ever, we are understaffed and fear that our livelihoods will once again surrender to the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. All the while, Maine restaurants are handling an influx of frustration and impatience from guests.
Subsequently, it is no wonder why more and more restaurant workers are deciding to leave the industry for good. Eli Rosenberg from the Washington Post reports that nationally, there are 1.7% fewer service industry jobs filled than there were prior to the pandemic. It is important to note preexisting labor standards within the restaurant industry; Rosenberg points to a history of sexual harassment, verbal harassment, inconsistent hours and little, if any, benefits. For some, the hardships brought on by the pandemic can be considered a final straw for many in the industry. Maine’s labor commissioner, Laura Fortman, also cites lack of childcare, affordable housing and transportation as well as general burnout for restaurant labor shortages.
This stark decline in the restaurant work force and the prospect of declining Maine restaurants also poses a threat to Maine’s economy. The Bangor Daily News estimates that the hospitality industry in Maine generates some $7 billion annual revenue; meanwhile, an economic profile on Maine from IBISWorld demonstrates that accommodation and food service industries have taken the largest hit from COVID-19 economic exposure. Thus, the current situation negatively affects both restaurant workers’ income and the state’s economy.
Local restaurants curate a community––one where people can come together and support their own. So go do just that. Support your local hospitality centers. Grab that drink with a friend whenever you can. Order takeout when you’re feeling lazy, and most importantly, be kind to those that are serving you when you do. As the famous saying goes, “don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”