NEW YORK CITY, New York: New York City restaurants that reopened indoor dining to 100 percent capacity this week, almost a year after being hit by the coronavirus pandemic, are faced with a new kind of problem: a shortage of workers.
Pat Hughes, owner of the Manhattan bar, Scruffy Duffy's, which has been shuttered for more than a year, said he cannot reopen until he finds a good bartender, but worried that the high employment benefits and pandemic assistance were keeping employees away.
"If you're on unemployment, you're receiving... $750 take home (weekly)... So if you're working in a bar or restaurant, you're not making that kind of money," Hughes said.
Hughes added that he was willing to pay higher wages to attract employees, but this would translate into higher prices for customers. "And how much more is the customer willing to pay for a hamburger or a Bud Light? It's already expensive."
According to job search website Joblist, hospitality job openings in New York have almost doubled in the last three months, but the current level of interest in these jobs is down more than 40 percent from its peak in June, during the first wave of reopenings.
Owner and Executive Chef Paul Denamiel of French restaurant Le Rivage in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan, said many former hospitality workers had decided to leave the industry altogether.
"It was a hard industry to begin with," he said. "A lot of those...longtime career hospitality people, are just not there. They're gone."
Former bartender Aaron Kolatch, who worked for eight years at some of New York City's most popular bars, is one of them.
Kolatch decided to learn computer coding as a hobby during the pandemic, but after signing up for an online introductory course on computer science, he realized he wanted to change careers to become a software engineer.
"Did I want to manage a bar in 10 years or did I want something that had the potential to maybe, one day, move to Jersey and get a house, if that's what I wanted to do?" he asked.