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Restaurant workers need love too


Be kind. Rewind.

Remember that label on your rented VHS tapes in the 1980s and 90s?

We may need to revive that slogan, with a variation: “Be kind as you dine.”

With the twin dilemmas of staffing shortages and product shortages, local restaurants are struggling to take care of customers, which have come back in droves.

“People are going out a lot,” said Jerry Harrell, general manager of Double Eagle and Peppers in Mesilla. “A lot more than 2019. Maybe it’s the ‘finally-free syndrome.’ People are having dessert more, they’re having second drinks more and they’re splurging on higher priced items more.”

They’re also having to go to their Plan B, or Plan C, menu order more.

“I’ll have the portabella burger.”

“I’m sorry, we’re out of that.”

“OK. I’ll have the green chile chicken alfredo.”

“I’m sorry, we just ran out of that too.”

Harrell said the outages come from the restaurant distributors, who say they aren’t really shortages, but problems with the supply chain. If a boat in Los Angeles is backed up in harbor, or if a trucking distribution center in Dallas is having issues, it could affect what is available in Las Cruces.

Unfortunately for restaurateurs, there is no consistency with the product issues.

“One week they’ll be out of one thing, so you double-order that the next week,” Harrell said. “But then they’ll be out of something different.”

Product prices are slowly, steadily increasing across the board, across all items, Harrell said, adding another pinch to both restaurants and diners.

There’s a longer delay time for durable goods like China, glasses and silverware. What used to arrive in a few days, now takes a few weeks.

The issue of staffing is not unique to restaurants. People across the country, across industries, are having difficulty finding people to hire. Businesses everywhere complain of people coming to work for a month, a week or even just a day, then not showing up again.

Many blame it on an unmotivated work force, who benefited from Covid stimulus money and increased and extended unemployment payments that are still coming. Harrell agrees.

“We just can’t find many of our old workers,” he said of reliable restaurant veterans who were laid off during the restaurant shutdowns of the pandemic.

The difficulties extend beyond Las Cruces. Harrell, who has served statewide roles for the New Mexico Restaurant Association, said there are as many as 9,000 unemployed restaurant workers across the state.

The servers who have come in, most of them 25 and under, Harrell said, lack restaurant experience.

“Many of them didn’t grow up eating courses, so they don’t understand those things,” Harrell said. “They’re younger, and many aren’t drinkers, so they don’t know about wines and different drinks.”

Those types of translation issues, combined with inexperience, and amplified by the lack of products, lead to confusion and missed orders. And, in some cases, upset customers.

“Most of them are patient and understanding, but some get frustrated,” Harrell said. “And while they’re not overtly rude, they do take it out on the server, by short-tipping, or no-tipping, like somehow it’s their fault.”

The whole point of dining out is to relax and have fun. If you have to wait a little longer, enjoy your company more. If they’re out of what you wanted, it’s your chance to try something new. However you do it …

Be kind. Unwind.

Richard Coltharp