Businesses Make Hires, Routine Improvements This Time Of Year

OCEAN CITY – Stretching their legs after a relatively calm
winter, businesses in the area have begun to come to life once again with the
passing of the Easter holiday and the return of Springfest next week. Business
will hit full stride for the season for at least another month or so and
establishments are using this time to finish up final preparations as the
summer approaches.

According to Susan Jones, executive director of the
Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, most places begin getting things in order
around March after the Trade Show and are open by Springfest. Preparing for the
season includes the typical cleaning and maintenance that comes with owning a
business, “to ensure it is in tip-top shape before opening up the doors.”

The routine also
includes taking a look at staffing and determining what positions will need to
be filled in the following weeks, something that has not been a problem in
years past.

“There were
a couple years there in the early 2000’s where there were shortages but not
now,” Jones said.

For most places,
locals become a key asset in this but foreign college students, who take part
in work travel programs where sponsor companies give four-month visas to those
looking to take part in a cultural exchange, easily make up for any would-be
shortages.

Jones went on to
say how the recent weather has been nice but it probably will not encourage
owners to rush into the season. Only if it stays stable will some take the
leap.

“Springfest is a
wonderful jumpstart [to the season],” she said. “We definitely need the special
events and conventions to bring in the business but people don’t start
totally jamming until July Fourth.”

Paul Wall, vice president for Phillips Seafood, said the
company usually begins in January and February finding next season’s help by
attending local job fairs and running ads in papers. Training will generally
take place in the early spring months to teach new employees the basics such as
serving and learning the menus.

“The training will begin to increase as we open and new
employees will follow servers around to get a feel for the job,” Wall
explained. “It’s a piggyback-type learning process.”

As Jones had mentioned, a lot of establishments rely on
returning employees, college kids and foreign exchange students for the bulk of
their needs. However, with an establishment as large as Phillips, sometimes
they look to H-2B employees or workers from foreign countries that must be
applied for from the federal government to cover their lengthening seasons as
the years go on and Ocean City continues to grow.

Wall said since the government only issues so many of the
H-2B visas per year, Phillips must determine early on how many it will need and
then prove the necessity, which is not hard because of issues with colleges
letting out later and starting earlier every year.

With sunshine prevailing after a wicked Nor’easter
recently moved through the area, Wall said activity has certainly picked up.

“We are trying to get the new employees ready,” he said.
“But if the weather continues like this we may have to call in college students
if we expect another fantastic weekend.”

The off-season is used to keep year-round employees busy
by doing typical improvements and making repairs for the next season, thus
ensuring everyone stays on their toes.

“It seems like by the time we finish last year’s work and
put it to bed it’s time to get ready for a new year,” Wall said.

However, Phillips, along with many other establishments,
has come to embrace the downtime since the amount of available employees
fluctuates and without it, general maintenance would become more of a task.

Chad Rogers, a
manager of the Greene Turtle West, said management began hiring about two weeks
ago and will have an idea of what the expanded staff will be by the beginning
of May.

Rogers said he
relies mostly on college kids and locals as well with a group of Romanian
foreign exchange students who have rounded out the staff for the past few years.

By the week before
Memorial Day, Rogers said the Greene Turtle would be ready to go for the
season. And since this year’s staff looks to consist of a majority of Turtle
veterans, training will be quick and easy.

“I’ve had the same
core staff for about three years now but some came from another Turtle,” he
said. “And training is easier here where we don’t have that extensive of a
menu. It’s mostly getting the people up to date with new specials, drinks and
changes to the menu which only takes a couple hours of study time.”

According to
Rogers, the Greene Turtle uses February as its time to make improvements or any
other small changes but too much isn’t always a good thing.

“A lot of it is to keep it simple,” he said. “If you
change too much, you are doing something wrong. Stick with what works.”

Rogers added that the downtime is a welcome reprieve where
everyone knows how much hard work it takes to get through a season.

“Everyone needs some downtime,” he said. “I like how the
town is set up now.”

As for the outlook on the coming season, Jones said people
are optimistically cautious but that is mostly attributed to the fact
reservations are made so last minute.

“Because
of the Internet, it’s difficult to gauge right now, “ she said. 

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