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Unemployment Lines: Throngs Turn Up for 220 Jobs at Red Lobster and Olive Garden

| February 9, 2011

At 9:30 this morning, the two lines outside the Red Lobster and Olive Garden restaurants totaled 250 people. Four times that number were expected throughout the day. (FlaglerLive)

Economic stress is usually just a cold line in news reports or market analyses. Wednesday morning, it was a pair of lines of 125 people each, hundreds of local residents, most of them unemployed, all of them applying for work at Red Lobster and Olive Garden in Palm Coast. One line stretched out laterally to the Dunkin Donut shop. Another spilled down the ramp that connects to the State Road 100 sidewalk, right by the big sign advertising the restaurants’ opening on March 7.

And those were just a fraction of the people who’d already been through initial interviews, and those expected the rest of the day. Heather Smith, a restaurant employee who was managing the lines and who’d worked similar openings elsewhere, said at least 1,000 people were expected to apply just today. Many more are expected in the days ahead. Applications will be taken even after the restaurants open.  The restaurants—which are really one restaurant, with one kitchen, but two sets of menus—are hiring between 200 and 230 people in all.

“People can keep coming in for hire because some people are going to get fired the first week,” Smith said, speaking from experience: she was just one of 10 employees who’d remained on staff at a previous restaurant opening after a few weeks. (She’s been with the company six years and is currently based in St. Augustine.)

The onslaught of job seekers is a reflection of Flagler County’s enduringly high unemployment rate. It stood at 15.7 percent in December. The national unemployment rate is at 9 percent.

Cross-cut of hope: from left, Maria Mays of Flagler Beach and Nicole Marlin and Rob Davis, both of Palm Coast. Click on the image for larger view. (FlaglerLive)

Cross-cut of hope: from left, Maria Mays of Flagler Beach and Nicole Marlin and Rob Davis, both of Palm Coast. Click on the image for larger view. (FlaglerLive)

People in line were of all colors and dispositions and ages, from teen-agers to people who looked like they could well remember the recessions of the 1970s, from suited men to older adolescents who looked like regular visitors to principals’ offices, from young women well-heeled in standing for hours on end, often as servers or hostesses, to older women whose life experience is a cross-cut through dozens of service and professional jobs. What most had in common is unemployment.

Maria Mays, 51, has been out of work since 2009. She started as a paralegal. She’s been an office manager. She’s been a dish washer. She’s been a waitress. She’s willing to take any of a half dozen jobs on offer at the restaurants, from dishwasher to host to server to cook. “I’m flexible. I’m a Girl Friday person. I do everything: I’m the one that does the dirty work,” Mays, who lives in Flagler Beach, says. How has she been making it since 2009? “Friends and God—truly God, because I don’t know how I’ve managed to pay the gas bill, pay the light bill, pay the food bill, and I have a child, I’m a single mother. So I’m hoping God opens a door for me.” [Update, Feb. 14: Maria Mays was hired following her second interview.]

Rob Davis, 26, has been coming to the restaurant site since it’s been under construction. He’s dropped in a half dozen times, asking when he could apply, who he could see. “I even asked the construction workers,” he said. He’s worked construction himself, among many jobs, though he’s been out of work for a year in Palm Coast, where he lives after relocating here with his parents.

Nicole Marlin, 23, relocated from Miami, where she was employed at Dolphin Stadium until 2010 in guest services. “I really want to be a server or hostess,” she says, having done that before. “Did it for many years.”

Every one of them had gone through the online application process, had written out applications in hard copy, carried resumes, other paperwork that might come in handy, anything to have an edge in a competition that would result in a less than 20 percent success rate, especially as more applicants will file in in the days ahead.

Every candidate gets about eight minutes of “face time” with an interviewer, and will get asked again to a second interview with a different interviewer, by company policy. Many candidates today could get both their interviews in succession.

The view from 15.7 percent. Click on the image for larger view. (FlaglerLive)

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16 Responses for “Unemployment Lines: Throngs Turn Up for 220 Jobs at Red Lobster and Olive Garden”

  1. Tom Brown says:

    Is this multiple-hurdle process really the most efficient way to identify productive and dedicated applicants? I wouldn’t have a lot of respect for a business that would make me stand in line for hours. C’mon, Darden, you can do better than that. Strange, it reminds me of the old Cold War-era photos of Soviet citizens lining up for food supplies.

  2. T says:

    This is why we need REAL economic development in this county. The sad fact is that many of the people in these pictures probably have families that they need to support. And for those that can not find jobs, they will probably eventually leave town creating far more empty homes than any silly post card campaign will ever fill.

  3. says:

    do you think the young generation is going to stay around here when they graduate college after viewing scenes like this ? i would advise them to leave this sad county. there is no future here for the young.

  4. Sally says:

    Corporate restaurants are not going to change their interview process just because there is such a long line. You should have respect that they are here regardless of what you think about the “long lines.” Business is being brought to your town and some people will get jobs. There is only so much they can do, respect that and be grateful they are here.

  5. Nick D. says:

    So I say again to our locally elected representatives… get off your butts and lets get a plan to move economic development forward now. As you can see in these photos we need businesses, we need jobs! Approximately 40% of Flagler County’s workforce works in other counties. Maybe if we had places for people to work this would not be the case.

  6. The Truth says:

    While I agree that this county is in bad shape for jobs, take a look around our nation. It’s not much better in other parts of the country. Larger cities have more jobs, and they also have more people looking for those jobs. In turn, you have to separate yourself from the rest. It’s an unfortunate position we are in.

  7. Outsider says:

    Palm Coast was created as a retirement community because that’s all it is suited for. It needed people to come here who already had an income, whether it was Social Security or other retirement income. From that came the service industry, but beyond that nothing was promised. I hate to say it, but it will be a long time before any of that changes significantly.

  8. Leah Sebag says:

    It is terrible to say this, however, these poor people will have to try to get extra shifts or work a second job to make ends meet in this county. It is expensive to live here on minium wage or tips alone. We need jobs to be brought in where you can have a career not just a job until you can find something better! Why can’t we get manufacturing jobs in here? We do have the land for it.

  9. PC MAN says:

    I’ve yet to see a job fair or hiring fair like the one going on here that isn’t just completely swamped with people. Then why do republicans always think Americans are lazy and not willing to work ?

  10. NortonSmitty says:

    Well I guess there were so many there because the new congress stood up to the socialist Democrats and refused to extend the unemployment benefits another 99 weeks. They can’t sit home living large on our hard earned tax dollars, so they had no choice but to stand in line for a chance at those great $2.13/hour + tips cushy jobs. More proof of the righteousness of Reganomics on his birthday no less. Is this a great country or what?


    We need jobs not new town halls!
    Every effort should be focusing on bringing job to Flagler county…not picking out colors for their new offices in a building we can’t afford!

  12. Rob says:

    I like your wit.

    I have said before that it more than likely won’t ever change and if it does it will be at least a decade or more. Palm Coast could be marketing itself to business instead of sending out post cards costing $10,000 to lot owners. Isn’t too many people and not enough business what got this place in the condition its in.

  13. ForTheWorkers says:

    I don’t know if anybody has looked at wages lately but if you are an employee that receives “tips” that is counted as wages received, by Florida law employers only have to pay them $4.23 per hour. i couldn’t imagine trying to pay a mortgage or raise a family on 4.23 per hour and hoping to make up the difference in tips with no benefits. Then on top of that how many of the positions that are going to be at this “one” restaurant will be full time, I bet only a small handful will be, probably just the managers and thats about it. With all of the money that the city is sending to contact absentee home owners and build their precious “City Temple” and the Town Center Desert they could spend that money on bringing real salary paying jobs. If the city really wants a new city hall then they should just move into one of the local funeral homes, because this city is going to die a slow death.

  14. devrie says:

    As to Leah’s post, I think the national unemployment IS high because of the low wage jobs that are plentiful. People cannot afford to live on just one of those jobs so they get second jobs. More spouses then ever are working, even if they have very young children.

    On a side note: I thought we didn’t want to extend unemployment becuase the people are actually just LAZY and don’t want to work? Why, these long lines all over the place must be fictional!

  15. NortonSmitty says:

    I remember that this was one of Ronnie Reagan’s proudest moments. When he declared that those freeloading waitresses and bartenders had to declare 8% of their sales as income from tips whether they actually made that much or not. It gave the Republicans a warm fuzzy knowing that a waitress at TGIFridays was paying more in income taxes than General Electric, General Motors, General Dynamics and General Foods combined! (For the record, they all pay $0.00 in annual income taxes, then and now.)

    It was the start of the Regan Revolution, and an important in-your-face point to show that there was a new Sheriff and philosophy in town. Just like firing the PATCO air traffic controllers. A milestone on the way to the brave new world of Reaganomics. Where labor has no value, capital is all and just be so thankful we are nice enough to actually let you have a job! A rising tide lifts all boats, and if you weren’t able to afford a boat, why should we care about lowlifes like you anyway. Everybody we know has several!

    Thirty years later, they have the society and government they dreamed of, a capitalist utopia. If you have to actually work for a living, it’s not our fault. You should have been born smarter. Or richer.

  16. Cathy says:

    I experienced this same type of thing around 1979 when Friendly’s opened a store in Smithtown, Long Island. We all stood there for hours. No, I didn’t get the job — overqualified because of my office education at Katharine Gibbs and my office experience. I would be surprised if we start to see stuff like this happening on Long Island again, although at the moment restaurants are closing more often than opening. We lost Charlie Brown’s on Long Island abruptly two days before Thanksgiving. They had something like 50,000 reservations for Thanksgiving Day, ours among them, but it didn’t matter — just closed and over 5,000 people lost their jobs.

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