After a two-year drought, tourists are flocking to Spain, but as the hospitality industry begins to recover from the pandemic, it faces a new crisis – a shortage of waiters.
From Mallorca to Madrid, restaurateurs are clamoring for waiters with tens of thousands of jobs to fill. Ibiza’s Hard Rock Hotel is so desperate it’s offering its staff a €200 (£170) bonus to find suitable employees.
The paradox is that unemployment in Spain stands at 13.4% – more than double the European average of 6.2% – but there are more than 100,000 vacancies, half of them in the hotel industry, even though the national statistics office says 85,000 bars and restaurants closed permanently in the first year of the pandemic.
“People come to see me for interviews and they tell me: ‘I already have three offers'”, explains Albert Cabanos of the hotel employment agency camareros.com. “We used to say to a candidate, we’ll call you if there’s anything. Now they say, I’ll call you if I’m interested. Or they say, I only want to work Monday to Friday.
So where have all the servers gone? Many are immigrants and some have returned home, preferring to spend the crisis with family and friends. Not all have returned, and now the government is proposing changes to immigration law to make it easier for immigrants to enter the labor market legally.
Many more waiters have been forced to look for work elsewhere as Covid restrictions have hit hospitality much harder than any other sector and have stuck to their new jobs, finding them benefits they didn’t have in their past lives.
Jeffrey Feliz Jiménez worked as a waiter and chef for eight years in Almería, southern Spain, but gave it up for normal working hours in a furniture warehouse. “Nobody honors contracts and you never know what your schedules are,” he says. “You have to work until closing time but you don’t know when it is and you end up working a lot of unpaid hours.”
Even when the lockdown ended, bars and restaurants suffered a series of restrictions on opening hours and seating capacity which in many areas remained in place until January this year. According to government figures, only 10% of hotel workers have permanent contracts and many were not entitled to holiday pay.
Workers simply could not afford to wait for business to pick up as hotels and restaurants hung on until tourists returned, which they did not do in numbers until Easter, two years after the imposition of the first lockdown.
Other sectors such as construction and logistics recovered earlier and faster than the hotel industry. “No one ever imagined that tourism would stop so suddenly,” Cabanos said. “People in the hotel industry have had to rethink their careers and they have discovered lifestyles that are much more compatible with family life.
“In the hotel business you have Mondays off and that’s it. But if you work as, say, a house painter, maybe you don’t make more money but you have the weekend. end, you don’t work at Christmas and Easter.
Over the past 20 years, employment in the sector has doubled from 900,000 to 1.8 million. One of the results is that owners are complaining that it is increasingly difficult to find professional waiters, with fewer young people seeking careers in hospitality. According to the UGT union, the average monthly wage in the sector is €1,264, not much more than the Spanish minimum wage of €1,000.
“There’s a certain stigma attached to being a waiter, like it’s not a real job, even though you’re there to make people happy,” says Patrick Pescetto, who runs the Buenas Migas cafe chain in Barcelona. . “It’s getting harder and harder to find professional servers rather than students just trying to make a little money.”
The confinement has also allowed many people to take stock of their lives. “The furlough scheme allowed people to think about what’s important in life and whether they were happy doing what they were doing before,” says Paige Tad, whose family run four pubs in the seaside resort of Benidorm.
Tad’s businesses mainly employ Brits and they had to close a pub due to lack of staff. “It’s the ripple effect of Brits returning to England during the pandemic and on top of that Brexit, which means it’s not that easy for Brits to live and work here now. .”
Monica Zajac, who moved to Barcelona from Poland seven years ago, worked as a barista at specialty cafes before taking a desk job at electrical appliance company Dyson, giving her more time to study for a new career as a psychotherapist.
“Working in hospitality can be tough,” she said. “You have a lot of contact with the public, which sometimes is not as pleasant as you would like. Life is short and you have to follow your dreams.