As one of downtown Pittsfield’s longest running and most popular restaurants goes up for sale, the sea change of the COVID era is not yet done with its outsized effects on our nation’s economy and Berkshire businesses.
The proprietors of Patrick’s Pub said many factors went into the decision to sell, but most were accelerated by the pandemic, specifically flagging staffing challenges. They are certainly not alone. A worker shortage has been disproportionately tough on the service and hospitality sectors — particularly restaurants. At Patrick’s, for instance, the business manager drew a stark distinction between staffing capacities before and after COVID’s arrival. The number of cooks at the Bank Row eatery has dropped by about half; the number of servers on Saturday nights is a third of what it once was.
Some business owners and pundits alike blamed enhanced federal unemployment insurance amid the pandemic, though the worker shortage seems to have only worsened even as those expanded benefits expired.
Meanwhile, as we are all painfully aware, COVID has reshaped the very contours of our society. For many, there are new feelings — pent-up demand for some but reduced enthusiasm for others — attached to public gathering places like restaurants and bars. And plenty of service sector employees have likely reacted to this upheaval by newly reconsidering their career avenues and side gigs. The widespread staffing issues facing many businesses cannot be reduced simply to any one root.
What’s simple to see, though, is that it appears to be a historically hard time to be a restaurant, on Bank Row in Pittsfield and beyond. Recently, we rejoiced in the cautious optimism brought to downtown Pittsfield when three new restaurants opened in the footprints of others that had closed since COVID’s arrival. Emphasis remains, however, on the “cautious” part. There are still considerable challenges facing our regional economy’s small businesses.
Throughout the pandemic and the crawl toward recovery, we have stressed the importance of supporting local businesses — and we still do, as these pillars of our communities need it more than ever. Still, much as we are tired of dealing with new normalities brought on by COVID, customers of these businesses should adjust their expectations — of the businesses and of themselves.
It might take longer for your order to come out of the kitchen or get delivered to your door. Frequent understaffing means the workers there are even more pressed than usual; we should always strive to be kind, but it’s necessary now more than ever. Shorthanded greeters, wait staff and bartenders are dealing with a public that’s still very much on edge compared to two years ago thanks to COVID, which has also physically made their jobs even harder in many ways. Be grateful, tip well and cut them some slack — if only for the selfish reason that not doing so stands to further compound current issues by driving more service and hospitality workers from these sectors.
Patrick’s Pub will continue to operate while it’s for sale, which is good news for the life and spirit of a central downtown spot. Still, change remains in the air, whether we like it or not. We hope, as we do for all our county’s small businesses and the workers that make them tick, that this popular downtown destination will roll with the punches — as we all must.