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The Dartmouth
February 27, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

More Employees, Please

Hanover businesses fall victim to the national labor shortage.


Longer wait times, skyrocketing prices, more limited menu offerings — across the nation, this is the new reality for restaurant-goers. The entire food service industry is struggling with the lingering effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with issues such as labor shortages and supply chain disruption impacting the industry in numerous ways. In a survey conducted by Alignable with small and medium-sized business owners, 85% of restaurant owners said it was “very difficult” to find staff, and only 3% said they weren’t struggling to hire. 

Big chains such as Starbucks and Burger King have also had difficulty finding workers; their attempts to woo potential employees include increasing wages, promising expanded benefits with more time off and even holding hiring parties for workers. Still, the jobs remain unclaimed.

Experts remain puzzled, especially since there are more job openings than people classified as unemployed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Explanations range from workers choosing to remain out of work due to expanded unemployed benefits to workers deciding that the risk of infection isn’t worth the relatively low pay and work conditions. On top of the worker shortage is the supply chain disruption, where COVID-19 mitigation strategies have impacted the production of goods and services. The production issues have been exacerbated by the lack of workers available to help move goods across ports and warehouses — creating a cyclical conundrum that the nation has yet to escape. 

Hanover and the greater Upper Valley have also been unable to escape the labor crisis. This summer saw many businesses closing during weekdays or reducing hours, with help wanted signs plastered across storefront windows. Restaurants such as Murphy’s on the Green and Impasto, both owned by local businessman Nigel Leeming, had to reduce hours and even close on certain days during the summer — but recently, they have been able to regain their staff. 

“We have a good reputation in the community, so we didn’t have to worry too much about attracting workers,” Leeming said. “The managers at Murphy’s and Impasto are great at what they do, so we’ve been able to run smoothly now.” 

For Leeming, who has been running Murphy’s for thirty years, the pandemic was an unexpected roadblock — but not one that his business was unequipped to deal with.

“It helps that customers are starting to understand the labor shortage,” Leeming said. “And they’re also starting to understand which restaurants have been able to keep up and which haven’t.”

While some restaurants have been “keeping up,” others are still scrambling to make adjustments. The Hanover Starbucks — the only big chain on Main Street — is continuing to deal with staffing and supply issues. Grace Connolly ’25, a Starbucks employee who used to work at her local Boston branch, said that the location is struggling to deal with customer flow. According to Connolly, the store is closed on Sundays and Mondays for new hire training. On days when the store is open, it can be difficult for the few employees to manage all the orders.

“It’s still at the point where, sometimes, we have to shut off mobile orders because there’s just not enough staff there to make the drinks and prepare food,” Connolly said. “On days like Homecoming, we have to close early, because there were way more people coming in than we could handle.”

The store has also been dealing with shortages of inventory — such as syrups and cups — since the summer.

“Honestly, it’s mostly been nonessential things, but the day we run out of caramel drizzle is when I’ll start to worry,” she said. “People get particularly mad when we don’t have their caramel drizzle.” 

Similar to Leeming’s observations, Connolly believes that customers are mostly sympathetic to the long wait times. 

“Some people are still impatient or mad about what we don’t have, but it helps that they’re able to see that there are only two people at the bar working,” she said. 

For many students, the most tangible impacts of the labor shortage are long lines at Dartmouth Dining Services locations. DDS has suffered from long lines in most of their locations and decreased menu offerings, especially during the late night period. With an influx of students on campus combined with exigent industry issues, the College’s dining services are struggling to keep up with demand. 

DDS director Jon Plodzik said that DDS has had to work around decreased staff. 

“We have a core group [of employees] that has still been here throughout the whole pandemic experience,” Plodzik said. “But as a natural progression, we’ve lost some folks along the way — people have retired, people have moved away, some people just stopped working because they felt like this was the time. So we’ve had to pivot.” 

While DDS still has 15-20 positions that need filling, in the past two months, they have received only two applications for positions, according to Plodzik. Because of this, Plodzik and other internal staff members have been forced to work alongside operational staff. 

“We have taken every person out of the office to help our core workers out,” Plodzik said. “Even our graphic designer works every day on the grill to help expedite that line. He’s joined by our catering coordinator. We brought people that do all our purchasing who historically may not have had a role in daily operations, and they serve the lines every day.”

Staff members have also been working up to twelve hours a day, with many working full-day shifts due to other workers calling out sick because of COVID-19 protocols. Plodzik himself hasn’t sat down to have dinner with his family in six weeks, he said. 

And just like Starbucks, DDS has also been facing shortages in basic necessities. 

“We needed more coffee mugs because the students keep taking our coffee mugs — by the way, please stop taking our coffee mugs,” Plodzik said. “So we ordered new ones — in August. And now they’re saying they might come in January sometime. But in the meantime, we have no coffee cups. So we’re going to buy white coffee cups that we don’t really want, just because it’s something they have right now.”

At other DDS locations, problems with food supply also run rampant. At Ramekin Cafe, their famed macaroni and cheese has been missing for two weeks, with supervisors unsure of when it will be available again. One student supervisor, Tanzil Mohamed ’23, said this was a new problem for the cafe.

“There are aspects where we are kind of wrongly advertising our products because of supply chain issues,” Mohamed said. “We just can’t be as consistent with things like the GET ordering app, because we’re running out of stuff. So like someone might order a chicken noodle soup, for example, on the app. But we don’t actually have it, because we just weren't able to order it or we only got one bag that day.”

Experts predict that both the supply chain and labor shortage crises will continue in tandem for the foreseeable future, warning that the situation will get worse before it returns to normal. In the meantime, the food industry will continue to adapt to the day-to-day bumps in the road. 

“Right now, it’s just a system full of missing pieces,” Plodzik said.