Hospitality businesses face struggles trying to get employees back to work

VIDEO: Hospitality businesses face struggles trying to get employees back to work

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - While many hospitality businesses like restaurants and hotels have reopened, it is still not business as usual.

For the Wild Dunes Resort on the Isle of Palms, Managing Director Frank Fredericks said they are only allowed to have about one-quarter of their employees back so far, even though he says most of their workers want to come back.

They started by bringing back their most critical employees first.

“The most critical employees in hospitality are the ones that serve our guests," Fredericks says. "So housekeepers came back very early, restaurant servers, of course managers to help lead them, to coordinate the reopening. In our case, at Wild Dunes Resort, we’re meeting extremely difficult, strict guidelines for reopening. So the first thing we had to do is bring staff back just to clean.”

Wild Dunes had about a 70% occupancy of guests over Memorial Day Weekend and a fraction of their normal 500 employees working to serve them.

“Right now we have about 130 working full-time. We hope that within the next few weeks, we get close to that 500 mark again,” Fredericks says. “Typically, in the summer time, when we really staff up, we go to a peak of 750 employees. So unfortunately, we’re going to be well short of that this year.”

Wild Dunes will be short of this staff number because of the regulations that come with phasing back in.

Fredericks says they have six restaurants on site, but only one is currently open. As they continue to phase in more openings, he says each restaurant will bring in a couple dozen employees at a time.

For other restaurant businesses across the Lowcountry, they are allowed to have more employees, but they’re struggling to get enough to come back.

Charleston Hospitality Group CEO Sam Mustafa says all nine of his restaurants across the Charleston area are back open, but he says only 64% of his employees are back.

And of those 64%, he says a quarter of them are new hires.

Mustafa says some employees have told him they don't feel safe coming back to work yet. Others say they don't have anyone to take care of their kids, or they are taking care of elderly family members.

However, Mustafa also says that some employees are telling him they are getting more money from their unemployment checks right now than they would be making at their restaurant job.

“We’re working very hard right now with the employees in the company to make sure we keep them supported and do whatever it takes to help them, you know get through this process, and also invite some other employees to come on board,” Mustafa says. “So, everyday, our biggest topic is how to staff the restaurant, what initiative program can we offer to make sure that they feel safe, and they are also making more money working, unlike not working.”

The Charleston Hospitality Group is working to set up a bonus program where they will give employees a bonus on top of their regular pay and/or increase their wages in order to get them to come back to work.

They plan to use their Paycheck Protection Program loan money to pay employees these bonuses.

Mustafa says the bonus program would apply to employees who are currently working and those who come on for the next 8 weeks.

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