Nashville’s hospitality industry is gearing up for one of the biggest business weeks of the year — when CMA Fest brings thousands of people to the city. The country music festival was cancelled for the last two years because of the pandemic.
But restaurants and hotels in the city are contending with record low employment to meet the demand of this influx of customers.
“Many, many restaurants and food service establishments and hotels in the Nashville area are understaffed,” says Randy Rayburn, owner of Midtown Cafe. “And all I would say is, you pay for what you get.”
He says businesses need to raise their wages if they want to keep up in this market.
His cooks used to make $15-20, but he raised it to $18-25. And front of house wages went up, too. He says it was enough to convince some former employees to return to his restaurant.
“It’s basic Econ 101 — supply and demand,” Rayburn says. “There was a smaller supply of workers interested in working in the hospitality industry.”
He says, in the end, the math is worth it. The business may be turning less of a profit by paying workers more, but at least they can stay up and running.
“I’d rather have a full crew and make less money than no money at all with no crew,” he says.
He’s not alone in making this move. Wages in the leisure and hospitality industry are at a record high in Tennessee — a good indication that businesses are changing their ways to attract these in-demand employees.
Hotels are also looking forward to the business boom brought in by CMA Fest. Nearly every hotel in the city is at capacity, filled with country music fans.
“Nashville is busy always. We’re used to this volume— this high level of business all the time — so we have the staff to accommodate it,” says Kris Carlson, general manager of the Sheraton Grand and Holiday Inn & Suites,
That said, like many hotels around the region, they are hiring. There’s no perfect way to tell just how many jobs are available in the hospitality industry in Tennessee, in large part, because hiring often happens by word of mouth.
But Carlson says record low unemployment, and workers leaving hospitality during the pandemic, don’t capture the full picture.
He says they’re not just replacing employees. They are also growing to meet the constant demand as Nashville becomes a more prominent tourist destination.
Before the pandemic, many of their employees were hospitality veterans. Now, many of their workers are new to the business.
“We are developing talent on the regular,” Carlson says. “Those that are really thriving and succeeding, are getting to move the ranks in like four or five years, where it used to take 20 years 10 years ago.”
He says the pandemic really changed the industry, so businesses need to be nimble and embrace that change.