APPLETON—Maine Cater, a recruitment company dedicated to serving New England’s food and beverage industry, has come up with an idea to provide local “restaurateurs, employers, job seekers, and FOH/BOH” with an economic lifeline during a pandemic that shows no signs of stopping.
Husband-and-wife team, Daryle and Orianna Degen launched Maine Cater in Camden in 2017 as a way to supply temporary employees to restaurants suffering from immediate gaps in employment.
“We’ve both worked in the hospitality industry all of our lives, said Degen. “I used to be a relief chef in England and Scotland helping short-staffed restaurants for years, but when I moved to Maine, I realized there wasn’t any service that could quickly plug in a chef or a server or a bartender into an existing restaurant if the restaurant was short-staffed. Given Orianna’s background in FOH (front of house) management and mine in BOH (back of house) management, we decided to start our own company.”
Since the COVID-19 virus hit, the couple left their Camden location and now operates remotely out of their Appleton home. In addition to providing the public a job board for the restaurant industry in all of new England akin to Craiglist or Indeed.com, the couple recently announced a community service arm to their job board.
Whereas before, employers looking to post on Maine Cater’s Job Board could do so for free. But now, adjusting their model, it requires a $25 fee— the majority of which goes back into a fund to assist workers and restaurants.
“Employers are already paying $25 to some of the larger corporations such as Craigslist in order to post jobs, so why not support a local company?” said Daryle Degen. “And in return, we invest the funds they paid and put it back into the industry to help other businesses and restaurant workers.”
As PenBay Pilot reported two months after the COVID-19 virus shut down indoor dining for the majority of Maine’s restaurants and bars in a story, “Open? Close? Adapt to permanent Takeout?” the restaurant industry was left flapping in the wind. The Paycheck Protection Program was not a huge success and came with too many strings attached to be workable for many businesses.
A dire prediction from restaurateur John Stowe, owner and chef of Rockland’s Rustica, interviewed for that article is now coming true. “...The reality is the pivotal moment won’t take place this summer; it’ll be after the winter, where you’ll see more restaurant closures,” said Stowe. “So, if locals love their favorite restaurants, the best thing they can do is continue to go there, get gift certificates and continue to support them past the summer.”
“To put it in a harsh reality, the restaurant industry is in a pretty bleak state,” said Degen. “Without any help from the federal government, I don’t foresee many places surviving, especially with all of the state restrictions on top of that. It’s making it impossible for restaurateurs to survive the pandemic as we enter the ‘Dead Season’ in January. That’s typically where restaurants rely on the income they made in the summer and many of them didn’t have that safety net this year.”
When a restaurant’s margins are razor-thin, it trickles down to the employees. “A lot of servers have also left the industry, where they were just not making enough,” said Degen. “It’s an industry not known for being able to offer the best wages and benefits.”
It’s more than that: it’s a Perfect Storm of economic disparity. Seventy percent of restaurant servers are female and yet, women have been disproportionally hit the hardest with the pandemic, particularly those with small children and who live in districts where schools are doing remote learning.
Giving Back Through A Worker Fund and a Restaurant Fund
Maine Cater spells out clearly in a blog post titled Community Service what they intend to do with the employer job listing fee.
“The $5 from the $25 will go towards credit card processing fees and job board software upkeep, and the remaining $20 will go into the chosen fund account,” states the blog.
To kick-start the fund accounts, Maine Cater will put $500.00 of its own money into each fund. They will keep track of which employers in New England states and regions are posting the jobs. So, if a Midcoast restaurateur pays the $25 fee, the $20 will go into a fund for Midcoast servers and restaurants.
“For the Worker Fund, we will be offering several types of assistance,” said Degen. “One is a disaster relief assistance, where if a worker is struggling to pay his or her rent, or is facing eviction, we will be building up that fund in order to give back to that individual. The other way we’ll distribute funds is to issue gift certificates to workers so they can dine out or buy take out and feed their families. We can also use those funds to drop a large tip to a particular restaurant, whether it’s one or two thousand dollars, which the workers can split. There are a number of ways we can give back to them, directly.”
The Restaurant Fund focuses on the economic health of local restaurants. Maine Cater will supply restaurants with gift cards to their own restaurant that either Maine Cater gives away to the public or the restaurateur hands out to guests. The funds can also be pooled to give away to hotels with attached restaurants for a “Weekend Getaway’ package.
“We can buy gift cards to multiple restaurants so that restaurants paying into the job post funds end up helping one another stay afloat,” said Degen. “It creates an ecosystem of restaurants supporting other restaurants.”
The other benefit to restaurants when customers use a gift card, say $50, is that the customers often spend well above the gift amount, increasing the ticket average for the restaurant.
A General Fund is also being built with the purchase of a resume package and job listings ($290) to directly benefit food banks, rent or disaster relief assistance for industry workers, and larger prize giveaways like weekend getaway packages, etc. Currently, this system is not open to receiving general donations from the public; it’s all through the economic investment of restaurateurs.
Maine Cater aims to launch this new program in mid-December. To follow their updates visit: https://www.mainecater.com
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org