Waiter Confidential: Endless Summer

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When you till the soil in local food and beverage, you learn certain almanac-like lessons in eking out a living. Working in an industry where warm winters mark tourism's high tide and torrid summers slow income streams to trickle, one keeps an eye on the ebb and flow.

As for myself, I've come to gauge the business climate's prospects from season to season, year after year, through certain telling indicators. Given everything that seems to be in the air, it's hard to divine anything but more doom and gloom for the immediate future.

Any food service professionals who, like me, have scoured the classifieds or Craigslist and such since late last summer (the traditional onset of seasonal openings), recognize that there was, at best, a paltry crop of restaurant, resort and club jobs to be plucked this year. August came and went without the usual harvest of new hospitality talent, and by early autumn, an industry-wide hiring freeze seemed apparent. What in good years can amount to row upon row of job listings and postings withered to a patchy few here and there.

Other signs appear equally discouraging, at least on the working end of our business. As more and more innkeepers do what they must to stay afloat, plunging drink prices and deep dining discounts are proliferating like a plague of low-cost locusts set loose on our tip-earning heartland. And I've seen enough street-level, arrow-spinning, sandwich board-advertising being trotted out by establishments of good name and reputation to make me worry that worse is yet to come.

I'm no Nostradamus, but with far fewer dining rooms and tip jars full than should be this time of year, it seems a pretty easy prediction to say that this upcoming off-season will arrive early, hit hard, and that the last half of 2009 could mark the end of an era of prandial prosperity for many a proprietor, triggering greater tribulation in the workforce.

Global climate change? I've a feeling that may seem a cool breeze compared to what could happen here come Memorial Day or so.

By summer, we restaurant folk may truly find ourselves in Hell.


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