But when he asked them to come back for a reopening in mid-May, he faced an unexpected headache: at least 30 said they wouldn’t come back, leaving him to scramble to hire new workers in the moment when he had to take action.
“When you shut things down for such a long time, people think twice about whether they want to stay,” said Thiriet, co-manager of the Heintz group, which owns 11 hotels and three restaurants around the river town of Metz. , near the border with Luxembourg.
Restaurants and hotels across the country are facing the same problem. After months of leave, workers en masse decide not to return to work in the hospitality industry. This is of particular concern in France, which generally tops the list of the most visited countries in the world.
According to the industry’s largest occupational groups, a deficit of perhaps up to 100,000 restaurant and hospitality workers is particularly troubling as hundreds of thousands of people are looking for jobs after the worst recession. in France for decades. Employers say it is becoming increasingly difficult to attract job seekers to an industry whose future is more or less tied to the vagaries of the coronavirus and the uncertainty of vaccination campaigns.
Help-seeking signs hang from the windows of restaurants and hotels across the country.
The labor shortage conundrum has emerged as thousands of hotels and restaurants that have survived the crisis try to make up for an 80% drop in business since last spring. COVID-19 lockdowns have cost the French tourism industry, the cornerstone of the economy, more than € 60 billion in lost revenue since last year.
“We know we’re going to have more customers this summer – that’s not the problem,” said Yann France, the owner of La Flambée, a restaurant in the famous seaside town north of Deauville. “The problem is, we won’t have an adequate workforce at a time when we have to make up for a huge loss in sales.”
Some say the problem may not be so bad, as international visitors are yet to return to France and job seekers, including students who need work to make ends meet, could possibly fill in. any shortfall.
But others say corporate insecurity is the bigger issue.
“The biggest problem is the uncertainty over the future of the industry,” said Thierry Grégoire, owner of the NT Hotel Gallery group, which owns five hotels and three restaurants around Toulouse. “Will things stay open or will there be another shutdown due to a new virus?” “
For those already facing signs of workforce squeezing, it is now clear that a generous state-subsidized vacation program to help French employers keep staff on call has also created unexpected drawbacks. In the semester that hospitality workers received 85% of their salary to stay at home, many had ample time to reassess their future.
“A lot of people decide they have other things to do than continue in a profession where nothing is happening,” said Thiriet, who is also a representative of the largest French hospitality organization, UMIH, Union of hotel trades and industries.
He added that thousands of other employers in the organization have reported the same recruiting difficulties.
Restaurant and cafe owners are particularly worried about losing skilled and seasonal staff as they prepare for an expected surge in customers when those with open-air terraces are allowed to reopen on May 19, the first. date of a gradual reopening announced last week by President Emmanuel Macron.
The government will assess every fortnight whether gradual reopenings in hospitality, culture, sport and related activities can continue or need to be halted, depending on the trajectory of the virus.
As in New York City, London and other major cities where government restrictions have been lifted, consumers in France are fed up and willing to splurge pent-up savings on the gastronomic delights and joie de vivre that come to them. is refused for many months.
French tourism professionals are also hoping that the impending lifting of a one-year ban on all but the most essential travel from the United States to the European Union, just in time for the summer vacation, will attract the spendthrift Americans after a long absence.
Career fairs that employers typically use to fill vacancies have been postponed due to a nationwide curfew and restrictions on large gatherings, making it more difficult to attract applicants in a sector already facing a workforce reduction before the pandemic.
France, the owner of La Flambée, is trying to recruit a butler, kitchen assistant and chef de partie after some employees say they are not returning to work – so far to no avail.
“The shortage of manpower is staggering,” he said.
Restaurants in Calvados, where La Flambée is located, must fill 3,000 to 4,000 full-time and seasonal jobs to be ready to deal with an expected increase in clientele, he added.
Government grants have been essential in keeping businesses afloat. But they don’t necessarily guarantee that employers can protect the most skilled workers.
Craig Carlson, the owner of Breakfast in America, a popular pancake restaurant in Paris, said vacation programs, while essential to the restaurant’s survival, had ironically disadvantaged some of its highest-paid workers.
While servers earning France’s monthly minimum wage of 1,539 euros receive their full pre-tax salary as part of the leave program, cooks and executives, who earn more, have suffered a pay cut of about 15% to stay at home until the crêperie reopens.
For a manager, a single dad with two kids, the reduced pay means “he’s really struggling,” Carlson said.
In the restaurants and hotels of Thiriet in Metz, the 30 unexpected job offers are not yet debilitating, since the reopening of restaurants will be done in stages and tourism and hotel reservations are not expected to quickly return to the levels of ‘before the pandemic.
Still, he says, it’s a challenge to replace employees with years, if not decades of experience who decided during the pandemic that work was no longer what they wanted.
“At first people said it was nice, a month or two of relaxation at home,” Thiriet said. “Now there is a lack of long term visibility into this industry, and some people are not so sure they want to be there.”