I usually delete marketing newsletters without reading them, but a recent e-mail from Nonesuch River Brewing Company (NRBC) earned a click simply by asking, in the subject line, for “HELP!” I was curious what sort of marketing stunt this was. Would it be something like, “Help! We brewed all this delicious IPA and we need someone to drink it!”? Or, “Help! We can’t decide which sauce is best on chicken wings — taste all of them and share your thoughts!”
No. Instead, the owners were announcing that if the brewery-restaurant could not recruit more staff soon, they would have to cut back service to five days a week.
I called Jeff Gambardella, co-owner and restaurant operator at NRBC. He told me the situation is indeed that desperate. Not only would they be forced to close two days a week, but they’d have to curtail weekend hours to half-days.
Trying to be tactful, I asked if there was anything unusual about the working conditions at NRBC that was impacting staffing. (An awkward question, but obvious, right?) Gambardella reassured me that employee retention has been great, but he fears that won’t continue if he tries to make it through the summer understaffed. Both the workers and the quality of customers’ experience at the restaurant would suffer if he asks too much of his current crew, so the only options are to hire more workers or reduce the hours of operation.
Gambardella mentioned some other restaurants that have been forced to reduce their service due to staffing constraints; Sebago Brewing’s Kennebunk location caught my attention because, yeah, he said brewing.
Steve Hewins, executive director of HospitalityMaine’s Education Foundation, estimates that the state’s hospitality industry (including hotels and other lodging businesses, in addition to bars and restaurants) has about 16,000 more jobs than there are workers to take them. Lots of folks have theories to explain the worker shortage. Hell, some even contend the problem is a surplus of hospitality jobs, not a labor deficit. That’s a great topic for barside economists to debate, but again, I’m more interested in the beer.
Of the 33 breweries I checked, located between from Biddeford and Bath, all but five posted job openings on their website or social-media accounts in March or April. Although most breweries were looking for tasting-room staff, many were looking for packaging techs, brewers, drivers and sales reps.
Robin Lapoint, co-owner and president of Geary Brewing Company, says they’re looking for an entry-level brewery operator, a salesperson and packaging staff. Given their focus on hiring for the production side, and the continued risk of COVID, Geary Brewing is weighing the possibility of not even opening its tasting room this year.
“A good portion of our time is now spent looking for people or filling in where we don’t have staff, leaving little time to hire for and manage the tasting room,” Lapoint told me. “Things are small on the front-of-the-house side here at Geary Brewing, and I wouldn’t want to have to close down brewing if there was a COVID case related to the tasting room.”
There’s always a spot of levity, even in the most dire situations. Peter Bissell of Bissell Brothers Brewing appears to be competing with himself for staff. The brewery he co-owns will be hiring a chef de cuisine and a sous chef for its new kitchen at the Thompson’s Point tasting room, while The Highroller Lobster Co, an Old Port restaurant he co-owns, is channeling Bernie Sanders to make its pitch for workers on Instagram: “We are once again asking you to join us in the kitchen, along with every restaurant in America.”
The implications of all this might be obvious, but allow me to emphasize a few. If you have ever wanted to work in a brewery, bar or restaurant, now is your moment. If you show up at a favorite watering hole and discover it’s closed that day, be understanding. They appreciate your patronage, but everyone deserves a couple days off. And when you are able to enjoy some time at a bar or restaurant this summer, be extra kind to the folks who are working there. Chances are they’re working extra hard to make up for a lack of staff. Fret not: good beers come to those who wait.
Marketing e-mails might get deleted, but the e-mails you send to firstname.lastname@example.org will definitely be read.