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When the pandemic slammed the hospitality industry last year, Bret Csencsitz, owner and managing partner of Gotham Bar and Grill in Greenwich Village, experienced the heartbreaking task of closing his restaurant.
“Gotham was in business for 36 years, the last 13 of which I was there,” he said. “It was viewed as a NYC institution, and I felt strongly it was closing before its time. It was devastating to let the team go, the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, and to face my own family without a job.”
He focused on building Gotham Chocolates, handcrafted in the Gotham kitchen and launched in 2015. Looking ahead, a wedding is planned at Gotham Bar and Grill later this month, as is a casual pop-up concept in the bar area and a September reopening.
“I’m inspired — we can examine how we have done things and seize the opportunity to grow,” said Csencsitz.
That’s part of the resurgence of the industry hit the hardest. According to the US Department of Labor Statistics, four in 10 jobs lost from February 2020 to February 2021 were in the leisure and hospitality industry. Now, it leads the pack in job growth. Out of 379,000 jobs added in February, 355,000 came from this field.
Mark Waltrip, chief operating officer of Westgate Resorts, said the Westgate New York Grand Central has plans to reopen May 25, and they’re hiring “everything from management, front desk, accounting, guest services, bell staff, valet, housekeeping, the whole gamut,” said Waltrip. “If you’re new to the hospitality industry with a great work ethic, there could be an opportunity for you. We look for people who are best in class in service. We are bullish on New York City.”
First, they’re contacting former workers for re-employment — that is, if they haven’t already landed other roles or left the Big Apple altogether, a big issue facing the field.
Deborah Friedland, managing director at EisnerAmper, a global accounting and advisory firm in Midtown, said, “There’s a shortage of labor in NYC, similar to all large cities where workers have more employment options. Many former employees have left the industry to go back to school or find a new career.”
As practice leader of the hospitality advisory services group, Friedland said Manhattan will likely return to pre-pandemic business by 2025. Domestic leisure travelers will drive demand while group businesses will return more slowly, followed by international travelers.
She recommended employers “cross-train and teach different skills to workers, refocus the tourism and hospitality industry toward local attractions rather than global destinations.”
John Niser, director of the International School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Fairleigh Dickinson University, said, “People interested in this industry must ask themselves about what kind of skillset it needs to grow and flourish, what can you bring to the table (pun intended) that will make a difference. Think in terms of creativity, innovation, digital marketing, food science, understanding consumer demand, farming data.”
The pandemic has also changed barriers to entry and created new roles. Alan McArthur, regional director of recruiting for the New York area at Goodwin Recruiting, said, “Restaurants are open to a variety of backgrounds and skills that might not have gotten them in the door in the past. We’re seeing many new jobs emerge. Some restaurant groups are hiring safety advisers, increasing their safety and sanitation protocols inside their buildings as well as hiring external cleaning companies.”
Andrew Olanow, the co-founder of Sollis Health, a national concierge medical center with an Upper East Side flagship, said job seekers should ask employers about protocols: “How have you handled an exposure in the past? Do you have any care protocols for employees who get COVID? Is my job protected in the event I contract COVID?”
Flexibility is critical, said Heiko Kuenstle, general manager at the Lowell Hotel on the Upper East Side. “As we prepare to call back more colleagues, we underscore the importance of being flexible and adaptable,” he said. “Processes and standards are changing daily, and we must have the ability to adapt quickly.”
Shannon Knapp, president and CEO of the Leading Hotels of the World in Midtown, said we’re headed in the right direction. “We’re beginning to round a corner. Prior to March, we saw 5 percent average weekly booking increase for our New York hotels. However, since the first week of April, we are seeing a steady average increase of 10 percent per week,” she said. “Daily LHW.com search traffic for New York has tripled since the start of 2021.”
Museums are looking to hire, too. For the Liberty Science Center, in Jersey City, staying afloat meant downsizing to a lean staff handling the interactive science center and learning center’s 110-plus animal species. When doors closed last March, its roster of 128 full-time employees shrunk by 60 percent, but the center is gearing for a comeback.
“We’re hiring guest ambassadors in anticipation of being open a fifth day each week starting late June,” said Paul Hoffman, president and CEO of Liberty Science Center. “As the government lifts capacity restrictions, and the pandemic recedes by the fall, we’ll continue to add staff. We’re looking for charismatic, energetic and friendly individuals who are focused on customer service and interested in science and technology.”
In addition, they’re hiring virtual science educators to deliver online programming to students. “There’s a renewed interest in and passion for science — that makes our mission all the more important and indispensable,” said Hoffman. “Science is also fun. Where else can you see a pumpkin explode, or Dr. Fauci’s likeness created entirely from Rubik’s Cubes?”
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