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Start of the summer season brings anxiety for beach businesses

Sunday News Correspondent

May 27. 2018 12:32AM
Jake Teti, a barback at Petey's, is a college student who works part time during the school year but will take on full-time work during the summer. (JASON SCHREIBER/SUNDAY NEWS CORRESPONDENT)

Petey's Summertime Seafood manager Cathy Myers takes an order at the Rye restaurant that's looking for workers to fill some positions. (JASON SCHREIBER/SUNDAY NEWS CORRESPONDENT)

Justin Blais hopes to hire three additional cooks by July to help during the busy summer months at The Atlantic Grill in Rye, but he’s worried he won’t be able to fill the positions.

Blais is the restaurant’s executive chef and has been disappointed when he places an ad. He said he’s lucky to get two responses, and that’s with an ad offering a higher wage.

“It’s the worst I’ve ever seen it,” said Blais, who has worked in the culinary industry for 27 years.

The fear of unfilled jobs comes at a time when many seasonal and year-round businesses need help the most.

Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial kickoff to the summer beach season for the many vacationers and other visitors who have waited patiently for warmer weather, but it can also be an anxious time for the hospitality industry that relies on seasonal workers.

John Nyhan, president of the Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce, said he’s heard from restaurants and other businesses that are facing challenges finding help this year.

New Hampshire’s low unemployment rate of 2.6 percent has made it even tougher for restaurants, which Blais said have also suffered because of a lack of interest in the culinary field.

“In my opinion, talking to the business community, there has been an increase with the level of struggle,” Nyhan said. “It’s not to a point where restaurants are not opening up. They’re being very creative.”

Petey’s Summertime Seafood on Ocean Boulevard in Rye has also had a tough time finding help. The restaurant is open year-round, but needs to fill takeout and hostess positions and needs bartenders and wait staff for its deck, which opens at the end of June.

“It has been a struggle to hire help this year,” manager Christine Aikens said.

She said it can be difficult finding the right help for the busy restaurant.

“Sometimes people just don’t blend with the environment that we have here. It can be a very stressful environment,” she said.

Some job applicants are also not as flexible with their schedules and not always willing to try another position if the one they wanted was already taken.

“Some people are set on being a waitress or a bartender,” Aikens said.

While some businesses have had a tough time, others have had a little more success finding help this season.

“We’re actually fully staffed in every location,” said Traci Schaake, general manager of the Boardwalk Inn, Boardwalk Cafe, Boardwalk Fries, Boardwalk Lemonade, and JB’s Seafood in Hampton Beach.

Schaake said they hire more than 100 employees for the season. Many are young workers from the area, while others come up for the summer from southern states like Florida, Louisiana and Tennessee.

“Especially being a seasonal location we find it successful with staffing from the southern locations that are slower this time of year or (from) ski resorts,” Schaake said.

The inn and cafe opened in late March, JB’s opened last week and the fry and lemonade stands opened Friday.

Schaake said it can be challenging at times to fill hourly positions; the majority of their job seekers want to be tipped employees.

Many seasonal businesses also rely on foreign workers through the J-1 student visa program. Nyhan said that’s been difficult for some businesses because of competition from other tourist areas along the East Coast.

While seasonal businesses along New Hampshire’s beaches look for help, Nyhan said many year-round hospitality positions on the Seacoast still remain unfilled. “You drive up and down Route 1 and you find help wanted signs everywhere,” he said.

School schedules also create a problem, Nyhan said, because high school and college students who can be hired during the summer often return to classes before the busy Labor Day weekend, and the season’s grand finale, the Hampton Beach Seafood Festival, occurs the weekend after Labor Day.

Meanwhile, some businesses that haven’t been able to find help have turned to family members to get the work done.

That’s what Chuck Rage had to do as he waits for about 18 students to arrive through the J-1 program to help out at his Rexall store and Pelham Resort Hotel — two businesses he owns on Hampton Beach.

“Everybody’s pitching in and getting stuff done,” said Rage, who is also chairman of the Hampton Beach Village District.

The J-1 students from Eastern Europe and Asia are expected to arrive by early June to fill maintenance, chambermaid and similar positions, he said, adding, “There aren’t really any American kids who want to work this type of business.”

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