Like I Was Saying

Exercise Patience

The service industry is at once hiring and trying to retain the staff it already has

By Kellyn Brown

Tourists have arrived, many of them still confused about how to access the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park (you need an extra ticket along with a park pass to enter between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m.). One evening over Memorial Day weekend, traffic backed up to the highway from the west entrance as ticketless drivers opted to get a late start rather than not enter the park at all. 

But there’s not much to see yet. At least from a car. The Sun Road dead ends on the west side at Avalanche Creek, well before its alpine ascent. The congestion might ease once the whole corridor is cleared of snow and fully opened over the next few weeks. 

Those visitors may have encountered a few other surprises during their respective trips. There were reports of multiple restaurants forced to close over the holiday because of lack of help. The service industry, as was forecasted months ago, is struggling to keep up with demand. Nearly everywhere you look signs ordain storefronts advertising higher wages and signing bonuses. 

So far, it’s not enough to entice potential employees — some of whom have chosen to leave the workforce after the pandemic; others who can make as much or more receiving extra jobless benefits from the federal government (although the program ends later this month); and still more who are simply priced out of a valley that saw its housing costs increase substantially since the first stateside cases of COVID-19 were confirmed.

It’s a summer like no other. Americans cooped up for more than a year are eager to travel again, especially to domestic destinations like Glacier National Park. Meanwhile, the size of the labor pool willing to work in tourism-related fields continues to shrink.

Whitefish Mountain Resort announced last week that it would reduce much of its operations during the summer because of staffing shortages to five days a week instead of seven. Scenic rides will still be offered daily. So far, just 65% of the positions on the mountain are filled. 

“Another reason we chose to do this is we genuinely don’t want to burn our employees out and overwork the employees we have now seven days a week,” the resort’s public relations manager Maren McKay said in an interview last week. “That wouldn’t be fair.”

The service industry is at once hiring and trying to retain the staff it already has. Along with limited hours, expect longer lines and other small inconveniences. McDonald’s announced last week that it was seeking to hire more than 800 employees at its Montana restaurants this summer as it reopens dining rooms. In a sign of the times, your Big Mac order may take little longer than usual. And that’s OK.

Instead of growing frustrated, locals and tourists alike would do well to exercise patience. The service industry and its respective employees are already trying to do more with less. Throngs of irritated customers won’t help matters and instead could potentially drive more employees from their respective jobs, especially young ones who aren’t used to being berated by strangers.

 Some of us are already on edge. You can see it on our faces as more people arrive. We’re all a little irritable. Let’s just agree not to take it out on those working hard to keep our economy humming over the next three months. 

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