Hospitality and leisure jobs are coming back after COVID-19, but managers worry they may have lost many staff permanently.

Waiters, chambermaids and cooks are coming back to work.

According to the Oregon Employment Department, as COVID-19 restrictions have loosened, particularly in the Portland metro area, hospitality is hiring again. Hotels and restaurants were devastated in 2020 as tourism and business travel stalled, and restaurants were shuttered.

According to economist Guy Tauer of the Oregon Employment Department “From December 2019 to December 2020 the leisure and hospitality sector shed 38.7% of payroll employment, compared with a loss of 9.1% across all Oregon industries.”

The sector was ailing all through the holiday season, but as vaccines have become available, the OED says eateries, gyms, hotels and entertainment spaces added 11,100 jobs in February 2021. Oregon added 13,900 non-farm payroll jobs in February.

Oregon’s unemployment fell to 6.1% in February from 6.2% in January, so most of the change was in leisure and hospitality.

Twenty counties went down from “extreme risk” in February, including Multnomah.

Restaurants and bars could resume indoor dining up to 50% capacity in early March, and gyms reopened.

However, transportation, warehousing and utilities, as well as professional and technical services, reached record-high employment last month. In terms of non-farm employment, Oregon is still down 7.8% from pre-COVID-19 February 2020.

However, the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association, which advocates for restaurant, lodging and hospitality industry businesses, said bouncing back is not going smoothly.

“Hospitality operators are having great difficulty finding applicants who follow through and take open positions within restaurant and lodging establishments in regions across the state,” warned ORLA in a recent media release.

COURTESY PHOTO: MOXY BY MARRIOTT - Leisure and hospitality jobs are coming back, but according to state employment data, many hotel hotel and restaurant workers have moved on since being laid off in the COVID-19 recession. The Hotel Moxy in downtown Portland recently opened for business.

“Oregon’s restaurant and lodging industries get a bad rap due to the size and scope of entry-level positions available within our industry,” said Jason Brandt, President & CEO of the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association.

However, Brandt added optimistically, “But make no mistake — advancement opportunities in many companies across our industry are considerable for those pursuing careers beyond desired part-time work, and those career opportunities can come with six-figure salaries for managers in both restaurant and lodging settings.”

Tauer praised hospitality and leisure jobs as the place where Americans learn soft skills and customer service.

“Those skills, such as getting along with coworkers, showing up ready and able to put in a full shift, providing quality customer service and countless more, are essential and transfer to many other industries and jobs.”

ORLA reached out to its members and found that several are blaming extended unemployment benefits for the inability to fill jobs.

One of them, Colin Rath of Migration Brewing Co., in Portland, said, “Even with a 50/50 tip split between front and back-of-the-house providing $25-$30 per hour, applicants are few and far between. We have had a number of applicants tell us they are only applying so they can stay on unemployment.”

Kathryn Summers at Homewood Suites Portland Airport said, “Many of our available workforce options have simply chosen other industries that can offer consistent paychecks. This will leave the entire industry working on changing service standards and style, I imagine due to the lack of labor availability.”

Steve Moore of 13 Virtues Brewing and Philadelphia’s Steaks & Hoagies in Portland said, “By the first week of April last year, we were trying to bring staff back, but we just couldn’t compete with the generous unemployment benefits. Running ads on Poached and Craig’s List brought some resumes, but few would actually accept a job once offered. With more unemployment money coming, we don’t see an end to staffing issues.”

And Brad McCray, of the dance/swingers club Candy/Sanctuary in Portland, said, “We have lost staff to COVID concerns, childcare realities, and sometimes simply unemployment benefits. Who can blame them? How could someone put themselves at risk or risk a steady unemployment check for a job that could be squeezed tomorrow or shut down in two weeks?”

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