An inside look at the understaffing on State StreetThe Badger Herald

It’s 4:15 p.m. on a Friday, and I’m getting ready for a 10-minute walk to work.

I take my bag containing my wallet, mask, water bottle, headphones, keys and BelAir Cantina t-shirt and quickly check the work schedule on the way out.

There are three waiters, two bartenders, a host and a manager on the schedule for one of our busiest nights of the week. To put that into perspective, just two months ago we had nine servers, three bartenders, four hosts and a manager regularly four nights a week.

Now we are fortunate to have over 10 staff in the restaurant at a time.

I have been working at BelAir for six months and have slowly watched the restaurant’s progress go from arguably overstaffed to cruelly understaffed. It’s not unique to BelAir Cantina – it’s hit restaurants all along State Street and across the country.

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Working as a student is not uncommon. In 2018, 43% of full-time college students were employee. But so much has changed in the past year – from the lack of job postings last fall to all the companies desperately trying to get people for an interview less than a year later.

The job market since the pandemic has been anything but consistent, and no industry knows this better than the restaurant industry.

Being a full-time student can mean 13-19 semesters of credit with over 40 hours of non-class schoolwork per week. Not to mention club meetings and events to attend, a social life to maintain purely for sanity and then the obligation of an understaffed part-time job.

It’s a lot. It’s no wonder that many students work during the summer and decide to quit when the air cools, the leaves start to fall, and classes resume.

Students who decide to stay have another hill to cover: availability. Some students work once a week on a dedicated morning because that’s all their full schedule allows, while others, like me, may work two to three evenings a week.

I go to class in the morning, do my homework until noon, and come home to change before my seven o’clock bartender shift. If it’s not that busy at work, I’ll get my laptop out and do my homework between the margaritas.

The one or two waiters who work with me have their school things posted right next to mine and will stop to copy notes or quickly type a sentence on their way back from a table and into the kitchen. Like any other student on campus, we all try to get a degree and pass classes while getting a job in a in trouble industry.

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As difficult as it can be to tackle staffing issues, employees find support through each other. Senior Thomas Montana works as a bar-back at Wando’s and said that “employee morale is generally high. Our staff, mostly college aged adults, are friendly and helpful to each other.

This is not unique to Wando. Holly Darter, a waitress at Bassett Street Brunch Club, said employee morale was higher with scarce and full staff.

But Darter also experienced a lack of staff.

“The restaurant I worked in before was very understaffed – having a large number of employees has a huge positive impact on the business… When a business is understaffed, the staff that is there is subject to more stress and responsibility, which often causes irritability, ”says Darter.

Personally, morale at BelAir Cantina is described as slightly positive – we are currently in the tunnel but there is a light at the end.

Staff understaffing aside, working in the restaurant industry as a student on such a bustling campus adds spice to life. There are endless stories to tell, lots of bowls of crisps and salsa to eat and never a dull moment.

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