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After a somewhat stressful drive out of the Keys to Fort Lauderdale International Airport last Saturday, it would have been very easy to go off on the people working the Allegiant Airlines counter when they told me my flight was just canceled. No advance notice was given, there was no other available flight at a reasonable cost, and the concert I was supposed to have played in Vermont didn’t happen.

No matter what I think about how horribly Allegiant Airlines must be managed, the ladies at the counter weren’t responsible for canceling my flight. They were just the front lines, having to break the bad news to travelers who now were stuck in FLL. It would have been easy to yell and bitch at them, but it wasn’t their fault. And they did their best under the circumstances as well, dealing with upset not-to-be-passengers in a calm, professional manner.

It reminded me about the situation so many local businesses are facing right now. There is a major shortage of workers for an abundance of job openings, combined with record numbers of visitors to the Keys. Short-staffed and overwhelmed, many businesses are having to cut services and open fewer days in order to give existing staff a break.

Many restaurants have cut days from their typical weekly schedule because they don’t have enough staff, and so their employees can have some time off. Sometimes restaurants can’t serve at full capacity, and sections of tables remain vacant. It’s certainly a stressful situation.

Let’s add those record numbers of visitors into the mix. It’s understandable that they want to go out and have a nice meal and a good time. Most are understanding of the situation, but there are some less-than-nice and major-league-impatient folks who cut no one any slack. 

If some of these types are waiting in line and see empty tables, they’ll often head to the host/hostess station and let the poor employee have it with both barrels. “How come you can’t seat us when you have all these @%&$#! empty tables?!?” Often, the restaurant hostess is a young high school student, working a job while going to school in the day. Seriously: how big a man (or woman) must you be to unleash your profanities and verbal Hounds from Hell on a teenager trying their best to take care of you?

Short-staffed in the front-of-house can also mean the kitchen isn’t operating at full capacity, either. Things might take a little longer, and your conch fritters may not be at your table in 2.34 minutes. The less-than-nice folks will often take out their frustrations on the waitstaff. I hear horror stories every week from servers who are attentive as hell to their customers, often in large groups, only to get stiffed on a check of several hundred dollars. 

That should be a crime.

The federal hourly minimum wage for tipped workers is $2.13. In Florida, restaurant owners get a “tip credit” but still only pay $5.63 an hour. If you think it’s fair and just that a server takes care of you, brings you everything you ask for, and is attentive to your every need, yet you stiff them or leave a substandard tip — you really are some kind of subhuman slime. You really aren’t as important as you think you are, but as you drive away in your Maserati or Robalo, you can rest assured in the knowledge that you really showed that server just who’s boss.

Quite a few restaurants have posted signs at their entrances that ask for patience and understanding during these tough short-staffed times. For those who consider themselves to be decent human beings, that patience and understanding should be a given. If there’s too long a wait for a table, just come back at a non-peak hour. If the food is taking longer than usual, just order another round of drinks.

Whatever you do, please leave a generous tip for your server. In case you weren’t aware, we have a very high cost of living here. If we want to keep our service workers, then they need to be able to afford to live here. 

The past year-and-a-half has been stressful for all of us. A little sympathy, patience and understanding will go a long way toward making everything truly better. And take care of your own mental health — if you’re stressed, be sure and take some time to take care of you. Stay calm, have another sip and enjoy the island breeze! And don’t be a jerk.

Catch John Thursdays at Sparky’s Landing, Friday on Facebook Live, Saturday afternoon at Boondocks, and Saturday night at the Key Colony Inn. Music wherever you get your streaming or downloads. www.facebook.com/john.bartus


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