Hiring woes lead to restaurants, entertainment venues reducing hours | Business

New Hampshire’s labor shortage has created more than just an internal struggle for employers.

Customers are feeling the pinch, too.

Even as COVID-19 restrictions lift, vaccination rates increase and business rebounds, restaurants and entertainment venues have reduced hours because they can’t fill shifts.

The labor force is tighter than before the pandemic. Besides reduced hours, drawbacks to the sudden return to business include increased wait times at restaurants and higher prices.

To draw more candidates, companies are offering bonuses as never before, conducting on-the-spot interviews and relaxing policies on tattoos and piercings.

Canobie Lake Park is now closed Monday and Tuesday, with job applications down more than 25{028e8b43b440f88d50a94b0ac799d5b93a220d942414697744f001bd74eb64d0} from before the pandemic. The Salem amusement park has about 1,000 employees.

Cactus Jack’s, Copper Door and T-Bones Great American Eatery will be closed Mondays starting July 19 until at least the fall to give its managers and other workers a breather.

“We went from zero to 100 in eight weeks as far as customer volume,” said Tom Boucher, CEO of Great NH Restaurants. “We’re not only back to 2019 levels, we’re above them. Our staff just needs a break.”

Without enough employees, some workers are covering extra shifts and forgoing vacations. The Monday closure guarantees some down time for all employees.

“There just has been so much pent-up demand on goods and services. It is going to hit a breaking point,” Boucher said. “This is not sustainable. You are going to see more and more places provide less goods and services as a result, or they are going to raise prices or both.”

Many younger workers have decided not to pursue careers in hospitality, especially after many businesses were shut down to prevent the spread of COVID-19, said Steve Duprey, president of The Duprey Companies, which operates the Grappone Conference Center and four hotels in Concord.

“They say, ‘I don’t want to give it a try, I don’t know if it will ever come back’,” he said.

Wooing workers

Great NH Restaurants has been offering hiring bonuses, referral bonuses and perks for existing employees, such as discounts for friends and family, carryover of accrued vacation time and a “shift meal” for those who work on Sundays.

“We are not only trying to recruit employees. We are obviously trying to retain employees as well,” Boucher said.

The sign-on bonuses include $250 after 90 days, another $250 after six months and $500 after a year — a total of $1,000 for working a year. Current workers also get the bonus if they refer someone. Employees who work at least 30 hours a week are eligible.

Water Country in Portsmouth has again increased its wage for lifeguards, from $15 to $17.25 an hour. One of the new perks is free season passes for workers and up to three family members, according to its website.

Canobie’s perks include weekday season passes, higher starting wages, after-hours parties and daily, weekly and monthly incentives, as well as a drawing for a free trip at the end of the season, according to the statement.

The flexible full- and part-time positions are tailored toward parents, teachers, students, retirees and members of the military.

Tattoos welcomed

The Duprey Companies changed its policy on tattoos and piercings. Previously, tattoos and eyebrow and nose piercings could not be visible for customer-facing employees.

“We’ve become more flexible because younger workers tend to be more into body art and piercings,” Duprey said.

He said “all of America is being more accepting” of body art. The company does check tattoos on a case-by-case basis to make sure they are not offensive.

The policy change will help widen the candidate pool.

“I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had trouble with hiring,” he said. “You can’t do hospitality remotely. You have to be there.”

Tattoos have historically been a barrier in hiring, but restrictions on tattoos have started to ease in the past 10 to 15 years — and even more so with a labor shortage, said Nathan Madden, a representative from Support Tattoos and Piercings at Work, a group that raises awareness about discrimination against piercings and tattoos in the workplace. The group also advocates for hair color and styles in the workplace.

Oftentimes, tattoos are a memorial to a loved one or support a cause someone is passionate about. The group advocates for hiring decisions to be made based on merit without regard to someone’s tattoos.

“The goal is always to make sure you have a balanced approach to the situation,” Madden said.

Tattoo police

After several years of discussions, the New Hampshire State Police changed its tattoo policy at the start of the year. Previously, applicants could not have tattoos on their forearms.

Now, troopers cannot have indecent tattoos. Tattoos are still prohibited on the head, neck, face and hands. A compression sleeve or long-sleeve shirt must cover the tattoos, according to Lt. Brendan Davey, who is a commander in charge of recruitment and training.

“We’ve worked really hard to balance the fact that we want for the public to be able to be served by great people who also just so happen to have tattoos on their forearms,” he said. The department strives to be professional and highly uniform.

“It is that image that helps us to succeed and to serve our public well,” he said.

Davey has seen many qualified people unable to pursue careers with the agency because of the policy.

“This winds up being a fairly effective recruitment tool in that it broadens our catchment of talent,” he said. “We’ve had a few candidates show up with full-sleeve tattoos.”

The change also has boosted morale among current troopers.

“Now they are free to get tattoos as means of self-expression,” Davey said.

The policy will continue to evolve. One item to be reviewed is wedding band tattoos, which are not allowed.

Great NH Restaurants also has adjusted its appearance policy as cultural norms have shifted over the past few years, Boucher said. The policy is reviewed annually.

Meanwhile, Boucher warned the workforce shortage could begin to impact customers in more tangible ways.

“At least for the moment, there will be less goods and services available for consumers because there are just not enough employees out there,” Boucher said.

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