Hospitality workers are pushed into new careers as the pandemic begins its second year

The head waiter has become a grocery manager. The conference coordinator works at a software company. And the hotel sales manager is now in marketing.

Workers in hotels, restaurants, bars and convention centers in the United States are among the most affected during the Covid-19 pandemic. Lockdowns and lack of travel have caused many hangouts to close or downsize. Since February 2020, the leisure and hospitality industry has laid off nearly four million people, or roughly a quarter of its workforce. As of January 2021, 15.9% of workers in the industry were still unemployed; more than any other industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As a result, millions of hospitality workers – a group that includes everyone from receptionists to travel managers – are trying to launch new careers. Some have moved into roles that take advantage of skills honed over years of public-facing work in high-pressure environments. Others have used the moment to redo themselves for different occupations. Many remain in conflict about leaving an industry that they say continually provides new experiences and builds lasting relationships.

A year ago, Ellen White was a Head Trainer at Public Kitchen on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. There, he instructed restaurant workers on the finer points of high-end service.

Ms. White kept working in restaurants for nearly two decades while acting, until she was fired from her restaurant job when the pandemic took hold last spring. Now, he applies that attention to detail in his job as a customer service representative for a company that processes Covid-19 tests at home.


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