OCEAN CITY — The summertime dealings are almost done for the seasonal workers in Ocean City, but as they are counting their money, some are finding that they are leaving the proverbial table with less saved than usual.
Much has been said about the resort’s business community and how it has been faring through this “better-than-some-but-certainly-had-better” summer seasons, but little has been mentioned about how the workers in the restaurant industry have done from a financial standpoint, particularly the seasonal workers.
Summer housing for foreign and college students continues to be expensive, as much as a few thousand dollars per person for the summer, according to sources, even though there are fewer jobs for seasonal workers and apparently less money to be made from tips this year.
For some foreign workers, finding their usual second and sometimes third jobs proved difficult this year, causing fewer foreign workers to stay through September or they didn’t even come to Ocean City at all. In years past, foreign workers were relied on to pick up extra shifts after the majority of the employees have returned to school.
As for the American seasonal workforce, there is an almost general consensus throughout the restaurant industry that acknowledges and mirrors a nationwide trend that has seen people either spend less money during their dining experience or simply cut personal costs on the line item that reads “tip amount.”
“If I make a 15-percent tip, I’m excited this year, where before I used to expect way more than that,” said Macky’s Bayside Bar and Grille server Tabi Centner. “People told us we would make close to $10,000 for the summer here, but it’s probably more like half of that this year.”
As with anything, profit margins vary from student to student as much as they do from business to business, based on a number of factors including where they worked, how much they spent on housing, and in many cases, how much they spent on partying.
“The same kind of people come down every year, and it’s been like that for a long time down here, so everyone knows what they have to do to make and save money in the summer,” said Hooters girl Jenny Lauman, “but obviously some people save their money better than others.”
Businesses also proved once again to try to take care of their summer staff and make sure that the money to be made was spread out evenly to everyone.
“I had some servers complaining in the beginning of the year that they weren’t making any money,” said Cowboyz Smokehouse and Saloon General Manager Brandon Mohr. “So, I tried to staff less and give them a few more tables or bigger sections and set our prices at an affordable rate so they would get more of a tip at the end.”
Mohr also noted that the menu at Cowboyz was altered mid-season to ensure that diners felt like they were getting a bit more of a bargain and would hopefully compensate the server to the usual 20-percent scale as a result.
“In the start of the summer, we weren’t doing the all-u-can-eat ($12.99 Ribs and Shrimp) and we made some changes so we were more affordable for families, and that helped our business tremendously and it helped our servers make a decent living,” he said.
If you couple the high cost of living in Ocean City for a summer, with a seemingly profitless June, and customers who were tipping less throughout the season, it is easy to understand why some in the restaurant industry fear that some of their summer help might not be coming back next year.
“It seems to be about half and half,” said Hooters girl Lindsay Farling. “Some people aren’t sure they are going to come back and it’s because they had to pay so much money up front and played catch up the rest of the summer. June was really bad for pretty much everyone I know, but July and August made up for it for most people.”
Farling, who has decided to take up residence in Ocean City permanently, said that if she hadn’t had her job at Hooters, she probably wouldn’t have come back.
“If you didn’t make any money this year, then why would you come back because rent is just ridiculous for summer workers,” she said, “but for me, I ended up actually saving more money because I chose not to go out as much.”
Mohr said that he was surprised by how many young workers were noticeably affected by the recession, and as a result managed their money much more efficiently.
“I think a lot of these kids appreciate the value of a dollar a whole lot more know, because they see people all over the country that are losing their jobs and are really struggling, said Mohr, “so if they walk out of here with a $125 or $150, they not only save a little more of it, but they appreciate that they even have it.”
Hooters of OC General Manager Matthew J. Ortt mirrored that comment saying that despite the tough economic times and an unemployment rate that is at its highest point in 26 years, making a little bit less money in tips while working at the beach is better than what most people are facing.
“These kids, for the most part, were just happy for the job that they had, where they got to work, the fun they had, and whatever money they ended up making was better than some other people’s summers,” he said.