OCEAN CITY — As the annual exodus of seasonal workers hits its full stride in Ocean City, business owners are left trying to mind the gaps on their staff lists while keeping service top notch.
Most veteran business owners or managers try to pass off the juggling act that must be done each year to compensate for losing almost a third or even half their workforce over a two week period every August, by saying things like “we knew it was coming” and “this isn’t our first rodeo.” However, it is significant that as quickly as thousands of seasonal employees who come to Ocean City and help small businesses handle the sheer volume of almost four million summertime visitors seem to appear in town every May, they disappear seemingly just as quickly in August, heading back to their colleges, counties or countries.
Although you may see more managers working in jobs they used to delegate or hire for, or merely just more locals or remaining seasonal help working double shifts, the key to getting through the staffing scramble each year appears to be preparedness.
“For us, it’s business as usual,” said Macky’s Manager Carl Bozick. “We hire a wide variety of people, but we keep some positions open for either locals or people who either can stay longer or live close by. But, we keep track of it, and plan ahead and fill the holes we know are coming.”
Bozick said that over the last two weeks, workers have been matriculating their way off the Macky’s staff list and headed back home or to school, but for others in the industry, the departure of summertime help is much more drastic and immediate.
“About 75 percent of my staff is seasonal and the mass exodus happened last week so I pretty much lost all my summer workforce except for one girl,” said Brandon Mohr of Cowboyz Smokehouse and Saloon in the Gold Coast Mall. “If you count kitchen staff, food runners and servers, I lost about 20-25 people and usually I staff about 40-45 people.”
Planning seems to be the saving grace for Mohr as well, but he said they started recruiting to a local college, who will be welcoming a new pool of students who could be looking for part-time work.
“Fortunately, school is back in session at Salisbury University so we’ve put the word out there and we are getting some people who want to work, and we try to spread it out on a part-time basis,” said Mohr, “but I jump in when needed and bartend or run food or work in the kitchen quite a bit this time of year.”
The term “manager on duty” ends up taking on a new term in the fall around Ocean City as managers who enjoy a salaried position either work longer hours or a mirage of different posts to fill in the holes and keep who is left on staff gainfully employed but not overworked.
“As sales start to decrease this time of year, I have five managers who get paid a handsome penny and this is the time when they are willing to roll up their sleeves and do the jobs in the kitchen so we can keep people employed and keep people happy,” said Hooters of Ocean City General Manager Matthew J. Ortt, “Doing it that way has always worked for us.”
Ortt also noted that the demand for people to put on the schedule often drastically diminishes just as quickly as the supply.
“Numbers go down drastically the third week in August to Labor Day, and Labor Day is not nearly as big as Fourth of July or even Memorial Day, so we don’t need to staff as heavy,” he said.
The restaurant business is not the only industry in Ocean City that is facing an annual staffing crunch.
The Ocean City Beach Patrol sees a similar exodus of seasonal workforce each year, and the task of patrolling 10.5 miles of coastline is obviously much more critical than trying to have short ticket times on the expediting line in a restaurant’s kitchen, but it takes the same amount of planning ahead.
“The staffing problem we face each year is even more exaggerated this year because of how late Labor Day falls,” said Captain Butch Arbin of the Ocean City Beach Patrol (OCBP_. “We have an awful lot of lifeguards who are school teachers and they all had to go back to work this week, but luckily we had a great recruiting class and we had a large number of standby guards and we tried to give positions to qualified candidates who could stay in town the longest.”
OCBP Public Relations Coordinator Kristin Joson said that the monitoring of the full 10.5 miles of beach will commence as usual until Sept. 27, but with the number of stands being trimmed almost in half (to approximately 70 during the week), she says the beach patrol will still be able to cover the beaches with great aplomb.
“Although the coverage will be done with less personnel and fewer lifeguard towers, we will supplement this coverage by increasing the number of mobile rescue units,” she said.
The other intangible that make filling the departing lifeguard void even more critical is the fact that some of the area’s most severe surf conditions are in late August and into September.
“August and September produce large surf, meaning bigger waves, stronger rip currents and often a hazardous shore-break,” said Joson. “So, now more than at any time of year, we advise people to stay as close to a lifeguard stand as possible.”
Still the sunset of the summer season and the welcoming of the so-called second season is one that many businesses and local workers look forward to, and for many, the money is still good well into October.
“We do a great September business because of how nice the weather is, golfing packages, town events and people who visit who don’t have school age children,” said Fager’s Island General Manager Kevin Myers. “So, we try to staff as heavy as we possibly can all the way through September.”