Advanced bookings of hotels and vacation homes point to a busier-than-usual summer, travel and chamber of commerce officials say. With many people eager to travel but wary of flying, destinations like the Cape, within driving distance of tens of millions of people, are attractive getaways.
Many local businesses worry that they won't have the staff to deal with the influx of visitors. That concern is especially strong among restaurants, where kitchen and serving staffs have been difficult to come by, and foreign workers, usually a stabilizing factor, are difficult if not impossible to secure.
The situation took a bizarre and controversial turn last week when Chatham Bars Inn representatives began leaving cards at local restaurants offering bonuses for anyone coming to work at the resort. The cards read, “I'm Impressed! Join our team at Chatham Bars Inn. $250 Starting Bonus. $250 End of Season Bonus.”
Brax Landing owner Jeffrey Gomes posted a photo of the card on his Facebook page warning local restaurants to “watch out for this.”
“They know the Cape is very short on workers, and this is how they handle it?” Gomes wrote, adding that he'd called the inn and given them a piece of his mind. “I explained my employees have a great attitude, me not so much when you try that!”
After an outcry on social media, the inn issued a statement saying its “recruiting cards” were “misconstrued.”
“Many Cape Cod residents have more than one job, especially during the summer,” the statement read. “As part of our recruiting efforts, we encourage anyone in the local area to apply with us for a second job to boost their income. (It has come to our attention that the message on our recruiting cards may have been misconstrued.) We are thankful to be part of the vibrant hospitality industry on Cape Cod and will continue to support the local community and fellow businesses as we have in the past.”
It's not unusual for restaurant to poach staff, noted Michael Giorgio, owner of the Red Nun restaurants in Chatham and Dennis Port. He said he's made it clear he doesn't condone this approach, and isn't aware of CBI approaching any of his workers. But the problem of a lack of employees is real and is tied to high housing prices, with seasonal workers unable to find or afford places to stay; attempts to hire foreign workers through the H2B visa program haven't panned out for him, he added. The competition for scarce workers may boost wages and result in higher prices, he said in an email.
“We could hire five kitchen staff on a full time basis right now if they were available, but so far they aren not,” Giorgio wrote. “The number of needed staff will obviously grow as the season picks up, so the outlook is not pretty.”
Wooing workers away from other businesses generally is “generally how wages rise, when an employer offers a higher rate of pay to lure people into their workplace during times of high employment, or in this case, difficult recruiting environments due to COVID,” said Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce Director Wendy Northcross. With reservations for short-term rentals and traditional accommodations “off the charts,” employers are working hard to recruit workers both in anticipation of a busy season and for year-round work, she said.
“And the hiring challenges are not just being faced by the accommodations, food and beverage industries, but those categories of business saw the largest dislocation of workforce when they were essentially shut down last spring, and then had to operate under acute capacity restrictions,” she said. “So they are naturally facing a bigger restoration of employees.”
The usual guest worker programs were disrupted by the pandemic, she added, and it is not clear if the timing will allow any of those workers to help out here this summer.
CBI never intended to “steal anyone” away from other businesses, said Simon Rodrigues, the inn's director of sales and marketing. With many restaurant workers out of work for much of the pandemic, the inn was trying to provide additional work opportunities, he said.
“We're a part of the community and we want to continue to support the local community and fellow businesses,” he said.