It’s a growing problem in hotels and restaurants of all kinds: staff shortages lead to delays. Delays lead to frustration. Frustration leads to nastiness towards the reception staff. It’s not universal, but just before the 4th of July, after an accumulation of complaints, it finally came to a head.
Dale Venturini, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association, called an emergency industry trade group meeting on July 1. They had an idea: posters that companies could hang in the window, as part of a “Please Be Kind” campaign. Toolbox. Like “no shoes, no shirt, no service”, they will serve as reminders for people to be a little more humane.
“Welcome back,” says one of these posters. “We are experiencing a staff shortage. We ask you to be kind and patient with the working staff. Thank you!”
But there’s another tool in the kit: leaflets with mental health resources for staff members who are struggling to cope.
According to Sarah Bratko, lobbyist for the hotel association: “There’s such excitement going back into the universe, sometimes you forget that there are real people trying to do their job. We just ask customers to be kind and patient, and to give everyone a little break. Because the industry is doing the best it can.
The stress of the pandemic has been hard on everyone, especially the people who worked there waiting for customers.
“I’ve never heard this kind of collective, ‘People have been so mean,'” Bratko said. “I don’t know if this is a sign of political division or if everyone has lost their social skills in the last year. It’s probably a combination of a lot of different things. But it’s weird how often we see this.
While there are always bad customers to contend with, lately the demands have strayed into the absurd. An employee at a Providence restaurant with al fresco dining recalled several occasions when the rain or wind would begin to pick up, and a customer would look her in the eye and ask, with a straight face, ” Is there anything you can do about this? ”
Massachusetts industry leaders share similar concerns.
The Massachusetts Restaurant Association has partnered with Clear Channel Outdoor, which operates digital billboards across the state, in a public service campaign designed to remind customers to be patient during the reopening and restaurant staff.
Steve Clark, vice president of government affairs at the MRA, said the billboards were on display throughout June and also included a series of panels aimed at promoting takeaway and alfresco dining options .
“We’re in the hospitality industry,” Clark said. “We deal with people when they’re hungry, when they want to go out.”
Throughout the pandemic, Clark said the restaurant group has also distributed resources to its members to deal with mental health issues.
The hospitality industry is not limited to restaurants, and hotel staff also deal with rude customers.
The Dean Hotel in downtown Providence has been open for the duration of the pandemic. When things were at their worst, people were fine, staffers say. They understood that they had to wear masks and accepted social distancing. They agreed that there would be no maids cleaning up after them every day or room service on call at all times. But now the economy has opened up and it’s like a switch has flipped.
“Just five months ago we were considered essential workers,” said chief executive Sosothabna Ngin. “Now you’re screaming in our face because we don’t have room service on Monday nights.”
“We’re a bit exhausted, the same way clients are exhausted in their own lives,” Ngin said. “Sometimes they don’t take a second to remember, they’re in the same boat as me. We are facing the exact same thing right now.
As Rhode Island enters midsummer, the problem could now be at its worst in highly touristy areas of Rhode Island, industry people say. Nothing against New Yorkers: it’s just easier to be a jerk to someone if you never have to see them again.
People have been locked up for over a year. As they zoned out on Zoom or received their millionth lukewarm Styrofoam takeout order, they might be dreaming of the perfect getaway. And when they finally get to take it, and something goes wrong – maybe they can’t check into the hotel until 3:15 p.m., or they have to wait for a table even though some remain empty at cause staff shortages, or the fagioli pasta takes a bit longer to come out than usual – so they go after the person right in front of them. This person certainly does not deserve it.
The stalwarts of the neighborhood are also feeling the effects. Eileen Harvey, owner of Skeff’s Neighborhood Pub in Cumberland and Lou’s Cafe in Manville with her husband, plans to print several flyers from the hotel association’s toolkit, so people have several reminders. People generally understand when they explain what they’re up against with staffing shortages, Harvey said.
“I have two bartenders cooking at the moment because they want us to stay open – so you don’t have enough goat cheese or diagonally cut chicken, I’m sorry, but we try to do what we can do here,” Harvey said. “They always say, ‘Oh, okay. I’m sorry.'”
At the Red Dory in Tiverton, owner Aaron DeRego said he put limits on tables to keep up with demand, but 10 minutes before he has to clear the table to serve the next customer, someone will try to grab a cappuccino and order of desserts.
Bad customers will remind them how much money they spend when visiting the area. Things can get downright scary. Some DeRego staff members have opted to continue wearing masks, leading to comments such as “Take your mask off so I know how to tip you.”
“Man, if we have to put stickers on to make customers nice, what do we do?” DeRego said. “Why can’t people just be cool and just happy that this is all over?”
Anissa Gardizy of Globe Staff contributed to this report.