PORTLAND, Maine — Alyssa Maziarz is passionate about her job.
She's a supervisor at a Portland hotel and said she just loves to make people happy at her job.
She decided to have some fun of her own while at the Maine Lodging and Restaurant Expo on Wednesday.
Although 81 booths were rented out to local suppliers, the real draw was the Hospitality Hustle, in a corner of the Cross Insurance Arena. Contestants raced to make beds, and some dared to walk an obstacle course while carrying a tray of water-filled glasses.
Maziarz was happy with her performance in the competition. As a student in Southern Maine Community College's hospitality management program, she's happy to have chosen a career in an industry that desperately needs workers.
"Given the pandemic, there's so much potential, not just for myself but for anybody who's looking for a job in this industry," she said.
Hospitality Maine President Matt Lewis said many of his businesses are still operating with a shell of their former workforce.
"According to the National Restaurant Association, we are 7,800 jobs behind in hospitality than what we were prior to the pandemic," he said.
Some of those positions will never return, he added, as some managers adapted well enough to fewer employees.
Summer tourism should provide a welcome boost for the industry. The added revenue might be needed more than Lewis thought even a month ago, as Congress announced in early March it would drop another round of "Restaurant Revitalization Fund" money from its latest spending bill.
"Despite the talk of how busy Maine will be this summer, there still are businesses next door to us that are really fighting tooth and nail to stay afloat," Lewis said.
Despite ongoing challenges to the industry, warmer weather and out-of-state wallets loom on the horizon.