Restaurants Ready to Hire, but Government Payments Keep Workers Home

Mark Fox, owner of The Ragtrader & Bo Peep Cocktail and Highball Store in New York City
Mark Fox, owner of The Ragtrader & Bo Peep Cocktail and Highball Store in New York City on April 29, 2021. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)
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The Ragtrader, a 300-seat restaurant in its fourth week of reopening, was hit hard last year. Fox said he lost a “devastating” amount of money. He said revenue levels currently are half of what he made in 2019 but that the needle is “moving in the right direction.”

According to Fox, the biggest factor behind the difficulty in hiring is the enhanced unemployment benefits, which now extend until the beginning of September. While he stressed it was necessary earlier in the pandemic, he believes the federal government has continued it for too long.

“It’s not financially beneficial for [people] to return to work,” he said. “So we’re in a real crisis with respect to labor shortfall.”

As Fox told his story, he described the emotional struggle he dealt with as he was forced to lay off workers on a long-term basis. At the time, they had no other resources to pull money from and Fox felt powerless to help them.

While he is an advocate of responsible social distancing and hygiene practices, Fox believes the lockdown restrictions in the city were arbitrary and not based on evidence.

“I think there was a distrust from the state government. A lot of people lost their businesses and lost their livelihoods and their dreams because of it,” he said. “And I think it’s an American tragedy, to be perfectly honest with you.”

New York City and New York state had different restrictions last year. Fox pointed out one that made him scratch his head: guests were not allowed to sit at the bar counter in New York City but they were in New York State. Restaurants in New York City tend to be smaller and the rule made it impossible for a lot of places to stay open.

And while New York state has been allowed a 50 percent occupancy right through to today, New York City closed down twice and restaurants were given 25 percent occupancy mandates for many months. Fox described how he had to pay tens of thousands of dollars to bring in protective equipment, sanitizing equipment, temperature checkers, and more.

People spent money they didn’t have, and ended up closed again, he said. He also called the 10 p.m. curfew “ridiculous.”

“I believe our state and city leaders didn’t do their job,” he said. “I think that they made arbitrary decisions based on hunches. I hope that they’re held to account for it.”

Andrew Rigie the executive director at the NYC Hospitality Alliance, a nonprofit association representing eating and drinking establishments, said restaurants are facing a “complex labor shortage” on top of an economic crisis.

“We need a plan and policies to help get more people back to work,” Rigie told The Epoch Times via email.

Unemployment Checks

Jim Walker, a local restauranteur in California and former president of the Newport Beach Restaurant Association, said the entire industry has been thrown into disarray.

“There is a huge shortage in back-of-the-house kitchen staff, and those who are available are dictating what they want to be paid,” Walker told The Epoch Times. “Finding hostesses and bartenders is our biggest ongoing challenge.”


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