The toughest stretch of the year is here, and Island businesses are feeling the crunch. Yes, Illumination Night, the Ag Fair, and the fireworks are behind us, but that doesn’t mean business comes to a screeching halt. In fact, the Island’s still got another couple weeks of primetime tourism. The problem is employees are downright exhausted. The Times caught up with a few local owners and managers about what happens to our working people when the end is so close, yet so far.
“Mid-August to Labor Day is the worst,” said J.B. Blau, owner of Sharky’s Cantina, M.V. Chowder Co., Copper Wok, and the Loft.
According to Blau, August is the busiest month of the year. The weather is hot, the Island’s at max capacity, and tourists are spending a lot of money to be here.
“You try to keep the level of hospitality where you want it, but it’s tough,” Blau said. “Everyone’s fried.”
This time of year is often referred to as ‘turnover season.’ Some employees head back to school, others are dropping like flies.
“People are leaving three weeks before they said they would,” Blau said. “They say, ‘My grandmother died, I have to leave.’ There’s some creative reasons why people have to leave early. It’s a bad month to be a grandmother.”
“We started losing a lot of people early last week,” David Gaffey, general manager of Nancy’s Restaurant, said. “Colleges down south start earlier, so we’ll be tight for the next couple weeks.”
Sarah Young, office manager of Morning Glory Farm, agreed, “We’re definitely feeling the crunch of all our college kids leaving.”
But employees aren’t the only ones feeling the end-of-summer chaos. “Even us owners and managers are exhausted,” Blau said. “We’ve basically been talking to people for two months. Apologizing for mistakes, dealing with mechanical issues and equipment breakdowns. Our vendors are fried, our air conditioning people are fried. The only people that aren’t fried are tourists.”
August is an especially demanding month for Vineyard visitors. “As people spend more money to be here, there are higher expectations, and we want to meet those expectations. They expect us to be on their level, and they’re right,” Blau said. “But there are some some guests mixed in there that are very demanding, and it takes a lot of employees’ souls. It’s not until September that we get that soul back.”
September and October are often considered the best two months to be on-Island. “It’s not just the weather and the crowds,” Blau said. “It’s the general attitude.”
With September comes a new energy, and employees aren’t running on empty.
“It’s led to mistakes in the kitchen,” Blau said. “Allergies, breakouts. People are getting sick because immunity is down. Some are getting injured because they’re not paying as much attention. Glass breaks in hand, cutting something, cutting themselves …”
Owners and managers have to be especially sensitive to their staff this time of year. “We’re always telling people to keep hydrated, which is easy to forget when you’re running around,” Gaffey said. “We’re pretty good at making sure we keep an eye on people who look overworked. We make sure they go home and get some rest.”
“My managers and I remind them, We’re almost there,” Blau said.
Generally speaking, employees are good at picking up the slack, and filling in the holes where needed.
“Everyone knows we’re getting tired, and we’re trying to help each other out more than usual,” Young said. “We have a really good team, and everyone’s looking out for one another.”
Martha’s Vineyard has a recharge season — there’s an end in sight — which puts the pace of year-round tourism into perspective.
“It’s amazing to think about places like New York City and Paris where it’s like August 12 months a year,” Blau said. “And maybe when you go to those places, people are crankier, tired, and more frustrated. But you’d understand if you had 12 Augusts in a row. I don’t know how people tolerate it.”
The Island’s peak season continues bustling through September, and employers can’t let their guard down.
“A lot of people are finally getting out of debt,” Blau said. “The staff has been making money all along, but businesses just start in August. It’s like, ‘Hey, we’re not done’.”
Blau and Gaffey agreed that the kitchen is the most physically exhausting place to work in a restaurant.
“You’re standing next to hot ovens and stoves in the same spot all day,” Gaffey said. “You’re constantly listening to the sound of tickets printing new orders. It can be monotonous if you let it get to you.”
“But mentally, they are shielded from the public,” Blau said. “Mentally, they’re more fresh because they’re just dealing with managers and co-workers. The front of the house have a slightly less physically demanding job, but they’re dealing with the August public. They both have different challenges. It’s hard to say who’s more exhausted. I think they both win.”
So there you have it. Businesses are charging through their final few weeks, before the long-awaited wind-down.
“And before you know it, you miss it,” Blau said.