The labor shortage is causing havoc in the Hamptons, with understaffed restaurants, beauty salons booked up for weeks, and no one to mow the lawns

The Hamptons in summer
People wearing face masks walk by Main Street n Southampton, New York.

  • Hamptons residents and businesses say they can’t find enough workers.
  • Soaring rents and a ban on visas for temporary workers is making it hard to live and work there.
  • A restaurant owner is doubling as a handyman. A resident said he’d taken to mowing his own lawn.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Hamptons residents and businesses are scrambling to find workers during the growing US labor shortage – and one said he had to take off his $800 sneakers to trim the weeds because a landscaper didn’t show up.

“I had to buy a lawnmower and cut my own lawn. I wanted flowers planted behind the pool. The landscaper didn’t show up. I had to do it myself,” one Hamptons resident told Vanity Fair. “My brother just showed me how to use the thing that trims the weeds. Yesterday, I finally did that. I had to take my $800 sneakers off first, but it was actually satisfying.”

A combination of soaring rents across Long Island, laws that crack down on shared houses, and a previous ban on visas for temporary workers has made it difficult for people to live and work in the area.

Local businesses such as restaurants and beauty salons say they can’t find enough workers to do the job.

Eric Lemonides, co-owner of Almond restaurant in Bridgehampton, told The New York Times that he’s had to close his restaurant two days a week because he can’t find enough cooks.

“It’s just been harder than it’s ever been before,” he told The Times.

He’s taken on multiple other roles – power washing the sidewalks and becoming the restaurant’s handyman – because “there is no one else to do it,” he said.

Demand is also sky-high at the moment. Zach Erdem, who owns Southampton hotspots 75 Main and Blu Mar, said he’s been completely booked out since he reopened at the start of June.

Other businesses say they have weeks-long waiting lists.

Annie Barton, owner of The Salon & Day Spa in Amagansett, told Vanity Fair that “the phone is ringing off the hook” and her employees are working “nonstop from the minute they arrive to the minute they leave.”

“Everyone’s going for the natural look this year,” one East Hampton resident told Vanity Fair, describing how impossible it is to get a booking at a beauty salon this summer.

If you are a business struggling to find workers please contact this reporter at mhanbury@businessinsider.com.

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I had the poshest afternoon tea at London’s oldest hotel. Here’s what it was like, and how the very English tradition has changed post-COVID

The table we sat at was where Agatha Christie used to sit
Agatha Christie’s favourite seat at Brown’s

  • I went to Brown’s Hotel, the oldest and one of the fanciest hotels in London, for afternoon tea.
  • Queen Victoria, Theodore Roosevelt, and Agatha Christie were among the big names who dined here.
  • Afternoon tea has gone through some changes post-COVID. Here’s how it’s served differently.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Brown’s Hotel is the first and oldest hotel in London which has welcomed many royals, politicians, and celebrities over the years

Outside of Brown's hotel
Outside of Brown’s hotel

Brown’s Hotel, which was first built in 1837, is London’s oldest hotel, surviving two world wars and now COVID-19. 

The hotel has 33 luxury suites, 82 hotel rooms, a restaurant, bar, spa, gymnasium, and drawing room where afternoon tea is served.

Compared to other London hotels which offer afternoon tea, including The Ritz and The Savoy, Brown’s is more casual, hotel tea manager Karol Kurowski told Insider.

 

 

The room designs at Brown’s have barely changed since nearly 200 years ago

The Drawing Room at Brown's Hotel
The Drawing Room at Brown’s Hotel

The rooms have hardly changed since the hotel was built in 1837, Kurowski said.

The Drawing Room for afternoon tea had wood panelling on the walls, cosy armchairs and sofas, and antiques and artwork dotted around the fireplace and window ledge.

A pianist played a majestic, black, grand piano in the Drawing Room, performing a range of songs from “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers to “River Flows In You” by Yiruma.

I sat in Agatha Christie’s seat where she used to enjoy afternoon tea at Brown’s

Reporter Kate Duffy tastes Brown's tea
Reporter Kate Duffy tastes Brown’s tea

Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, and Princess Diana are among the royals who visited Brown’s.

Leaders such as Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Napoleon III also enjoyed what delights the hotel had to offer. 

Writer and journalist Rudyard Kipling spent his final days at the hotel before falling ill and passing away in hospital. Agatha Christie spent her time sat in the chair which I’m pictured in above, writing novels and enjoying her favorite coronation chicken sandwiches.

Brown’s believes that the Drawing Room was the inspiration for Christie’s “At Bertram’s Hotel.”

But it was The Duchess of Bedford, lady in waiting to Queen Victoria, who kicked off the afternoon tea tradition. In the early 19th century, people only had two meals a day; one at breakfast and one at 8pm in the evening.

The Duchess started requesting a light meal and a pot of tea during the afternoon. Soon after, the practice of afternoon tea became fit for a queen.

 

The majority of Brown’s guests come from the United States

Main reception at Brown's
Main reception at Brown’s

Brown’s Hotel’s largest customer base is from the US. Many Americans who stop in the hotel choose to experience the quintessentially British afternoon tea at least one time in their stay, tea manager Kurowski said.

This means that the hotel lost most of its customers during the pandemic.

It closed in each of England’s three lockdowns and was able to open its doors again on May 17th when hotels in the country were allowed to reopen.

Although Brown’s is seeing an increase in the number of guests, Kurowski said staff are looking forward to when full international travel kicks in and COVID-19 restrictions ease, encouraging more people to fly to the UK.

Brown’s had to change how it operated and introduced new innovations to keep the hotel COVID-safe

QR code on the table at Brown's
QR code to scan for the menu

Like many restaurants and hotels, Brown’s has had to adapt to a more hygienic and COVID-safe way of working.

The sugar cubes in a small bowl on the table are now packaged up individually in plastic, so there’s no chance of someone touching your sugar before you pop it into your teacup. 

A small card with a QR code links you to the menu when you scan it with your smartphone, replacing the ordinary menu as we know it. Queen Victoria must have turned in her grave. 

This was the menu that Brown’s gave to their guests pre-pandemic

The menu at Brown's
Brown’s menu

After walking in the footsteps of famous historical figures in a traditional English drawing room, it’s strange to be met with a modern tech feature like a QR code. 

The menu takes you through the history of the hotel and afternoon tea before listing all the teas, food, and champagne. Brown’s also offers a full vegan menu and a kids’ menu which has a range of herbal teas to choose from.

The waiter gave me a small bottle of hand sanitizer when I sat down at the table

Hand sanitizer on the table
Hand sanitizer handed to every table

Further safety measures at Brown’s include sanitization of the rooms and guests’ hands.

Like every hospitality facility in the UK at the moment, face masks are mandatory for staff and the customers, until they are sat down. I was handed a small bottle of hand sanitizer spray containing rosemary and lavender which, unlike other potent hand sanitizers, smelt divine.

Kurowski said Brown’s staff had to wear gloves when the hotel was open between the three lockdowns but now that’s unecessary. They are also tested twice a week to check they’re negative for COVID-19.

There’s also a 30 minute gap inbetween each restaurant and hotel room booking, giving staff enough time to sanitize the area before the next guests arrive, Kurowski said.

 

First, I was served Moët champagne, hot tea, and sandwiches on a Victorian tea-stand

Sandwiches on the table
Table setup at Brown’s

After clinking our glasses of Moët & Chandon champagne, Kurowski brought over two plates of sandwiches on a Victorian silver tea-stand.

The tea came in three traditional silver pots — two for the tea itself and one for the milk.

Scones used to sit on the empty plate in the middle of the tea stand, but now Brown’s keep the scones warm and serve them later with the rest of the cakes, Kurowski said.

The atmosphere was cosy, calm, and relaxing with the tinkling of the piano keys in the background.

Here’s a close-up of the five different sandwiches

Five different sandwiches on the top tier of cake stand
Sandwiches on top of the tier

From the left, the selection included smoked coronation chicken, beef with horseradish mayonnaise, cucumber and cream cheese, smoked salmon and dill, and prawn cocktail.

Each sandwich slither had a different type of bread and was freshly made in Brown’s kitchens.

The coronation chicken sandwich was apparently Agatha Christie’s go-to sandwich, Kurowski said.

 

Brown’s offer 25 different kinds of tea. The first tea I tried was called Afternoon Blend

Waiter pours tea into teacup
Afternoon Blend tea

Afternoon blend, made with Assam tea, was served alongside the sandwiches. This type of tea, which comes from India, was refreshing and complimented the food.

A similar type of tea to the Afternoon blend is the light and invigorating Darjeeling, Queen Victoria’s favorite. Queen Elizabeth’s first choice was Earl Grey, according to Kurowski, whereas Churchill preferred a Lapsang tea, he said.

After finishing the sandwiches, Kurowski poured me a cup of Oolong tea. Originating from China, this rich, dark brown-coloured tea had a smooth, smoky taste.

After the sandwiches, I was served cakes and scones with jam and clotted cream

Afternoon tea setup at Brown's
Afternoon tea setup at Brown’s

After a top up of champagne, another tea-stand arrived, this time with sweet treats.

Five small patisserie cakes sat on the top plate, four scones were on the second plate, and a pot of jam and another of clotted cream was on the bottom.

Don’t be fooled by the small portions though — by the second scone, I was stuffed.

There were five different cakes to choose from on the top tier of the cake stand

Selection of cakes
Selection of cakes on top of the cake stand

On the top plate, there was a chocolate and hazelnut tart, strawberry cake, lime and coconut cheesecake, chocolate and banana truffle, and a raspberry petit gateau.

Kurowski recommended to eat the chocolate and hazelnut tart last because of its richness.

The real question is: does the jam go on the scone first, or the clotted cream?

Scones with jam then cream and then cream with jam
Brown’s scones

The tradition says that the cream is spread on the scone first, and the jam goes on top, according to Kurowski. Jam first and then cream is the Cornish tradition from southwest England, he said.

Despite the British cream-jam debate, Kurowski said he’s seen guests eat their scones in a strange way.

Some have put butter, as well as cream and jam on the scone, while others have sandwiched the two scone halves together like a burger and chomped away.

 

The third tea I tried was a Chinese Jasmine tea which changed flavor after five minutes

Waiter pours another type of tea into teacup
Chinese Jasmine tea

While I was munching away on the cakes, Kurowski poured a third tea for me to try. This one was called a Chinese Jasmine tea, which is classed as a green tea. It tasted fresh and floral but after five minutes, the flavor went bitter due to chemical changes in the tea.

I also tasted a Genmaicha green tea from Japan which had a more delicate taste.

The final tea I tried to finish off the whole experience was a black vanilla tea. This was a richer, sweeter tea which was the perfect end to a quintessentially British afternoon tea.

I even got to take home a goodie bag!

Reporter Kate Duffy holding goodie bag from Brown's
Reporter Kate Duffy holding a Brown’s goodie bag

Although the sandwiches, cakes and scones look small, they’re quite filling! Kurowski kindly packaged up the remaining patisserie cakes so I could enjoy them at home.

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Get Ready For Blob Girl Summer

Talia Birth of Venus
A detail of Sandro Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” on view at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy.

  • The writer Talia Lavin reflects on emerging from our Covid quarantines with the same perceived flaws and insecurities as before.
  • What if the coming season is less “Hot Vaxxed Girl Summer” and more “Blob Girl Summer”?
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As the petals drop to the pavement and shots slip into arms, we’re rolling inexorably toward Hot Vaxxed Girl Summer. We, the immunized, survivors of the plague, are supposed to emerge from our Covid quarantines without hesitancy. The problem with this is that I was never Hot in the first place and this Summer is no different.

It’s still just me, blinking hesitantly and shaking a little, sweating under my shapeless clothes and knowing that there are still people dying at war with their own lungs.

The truth is I am a Blob Girl. I am part of a vast middle sector of womanhood who are pretty bad at Being Women in the way that involves an arsenal of products and a wealth of knowledge to address every detail of our femininity with attention and care and perform it with the practiced grace of dancers. My je ne sais quoi is a literal translation: I don’t know what it would take to have such a quality.

This summer, the humid air will press down on me like a sweaty hand and I, in the middle of it, will be as limp and unluscious as a two-day-old funnel cake. In a world of curation through layers of screens-in which even I, stale dough pinched into the rough approximation of a human woman, know my best selfie angles-it is difficult to admit it and still more difficult to hope that somewhere I have a tribe.

There is so much expectation, after more than a year locked inside. We were supposed to improve ourselves during our time away from the world. In a social milieu shaped by the bright relentless self-optimization of capital we are supposed to come out of our bedrooms-slash-workspaces thinner and shinier.

Except I didn’t. For me, what’s coming is Blob Girl Summer.

I know I am not alone, that there’s a secret legion of grieving and unimproved femmes who have tried and failed to enter the halls of a kind of womanhood that is locked off to us. Somewhere there is a place, I imagine it to be not unlike the Temple of Dendur in the Met, where the Hot Girls sleep at night in their sarcophagi. I could get my ticket my life would change, and since I can’t, I live an unchanged life. The last time I tried to sit on a stoop on a sunny day I sat in dog piss and I didn’t even know, for hours.

For years I have tried to enter the temple, but I haven’t tried hard enough, and I have a big furrow in my brow and wrinkly hands. So much of what Being A Woman is supposed to be is the ability to transfix and enchant, glances sticking to you like cobweb.

Talia Temple
The Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York

I was built for gazes to pass over, an awning is more exciting than me, a hot dog cart is more exciting than me, the little creatures in the rainwater coming out of the gutter that you can’t see with the naked eye are nonetheless more visually arresting than I am. Am I a woman still? I have tried to be.

So many people have died this year, millions, and I have survived to take into my body a miraculous shot that is the very flower of medical science, a code written in my genome to lock out the great threat. And I, imbibing this, have the temerity to not even be sexy. If Vaxxed Girl Summer is meant to be a kind of pan-cultural Rumspringa I ought to be someone that transcends schlubhood under its thrilling aegis. And yet.

A SUGGESTED RITUAL

The proof of my failure is all around me, entombed in the room I rent. Somewhere in my possession is a pale blue container of Tatcha’s The Water Cream, a moisturizer that goes for $68 for 1.7 fluid ounces. Within the pale unguent, the advertising copy states, are wild roses, and leopard lilies found “on the cool hillsides of Japan.” The cream is thick and white, and the luxuriant vessel that holds it is accompanied by a gold-colored spoon, with which to smooth the pricey goop onto your face. There is a “suggested ritual” to accompany the cream: Camellia Cleansing Oil, Rice Polish, The Essence – $286 worth of salves and scours meant to alchemize one’s face and decolletage into youthful, glowing perfection. I bought it, all of it, in a manic phase in the last year of my twenties.

I was a Blob Girl convinced I could be a Hot Girl and so I was attuned to the chatter all around me about skincare routines. There were articles about it – The Cut runs a repeating feature interrogating how various women “Get Her Skin So Good” (most are very rich or very young or both). I wanted in, and I read the articles, bought the best, as far as I could determine, among a blizzard of beauty guides laden with an intricate web of affiliate links. For a few nights I bathed my skin in these things, titrated them drop by drop onto the bags under my eyes, the sallow tops of my breasts, my unspeakable neck. But I had no discipline; it was just another dilettante’s sally into a kind of femininity I had no real business taking part in.

By now I’ve mostly mostly hidden the serums away, feeling a vague shame about the whole thing.

I’m now 31, and I grew up when Heroin Chic was still the ideal of womanhood, hipbones protruding from low-rise jeans. The belated acknowledgement that flesh belongs adjacent to bones came late in my twenties, too late for me, and I continue to await a great cultural reset that hallows a body that looks like mine–an overstuffed couch dropped from a great height, a knockoff Venus of Willendorf made of plasticine. Somehow and somewhere (many somewheres, or everywhere) I learned that a perfect woman is a mirror that shows you precisely what you desire.

Nonetheless I stand in my sack dress and Walmart sandals and tilt up my bare, pore-heavy face with its incipient jowls and admit with chagrin and little grace that I am not among the blessed. I am a Blob Femme, a creature half-made of envy and shame, whose breasts are incidental and pendulous. A woman sure she is a woman, but sure of little else.

To be a woman and do it properly is a job that requires both effort and skill. It can involve cash, yes, but also work – testing and curation, a keen awareness of audience and effect. Much can be done with simple and cost-effective material, and while its primary cultural exemplars are wealthy, looking fantastic isn’t solely the provenance of the bourgeois. There is value to this work: learning the mysteries of the contour, differentiating foundations, finding the just-right nook of bone that blush ought to be applied to; assessing one’s palette, knowing hair milk from hair gel from hair cream. There is work in building looks each day out of the raw material of simple clothing, and it is work I admire, and at which I lack talent and initiative. There is unimaginable amounts of work involved in sculpting a beguiling figure out of simple flesh. I do not denigrate it; I long for it, strive for it when I’m flush in mad dashes of acquisition.

Talia Makeup school
A group of young women learn to apply make-up, circa 1950.

I never learned how to be flat enough, silent enough, to be all winking, passive chrome. During the pandemic I was lucky enough to be cloistered; this privileged solitude left me alone with a mind that wouldn’t stop buzzing, alone with a body that kept manufacturing its own insistent and extraneous desires. I know that there are many women who excel at both the labor of performed femininity. Who lust and take with grace, and who are as skilled in attaining their own pleasure as they are at giving pleasure away. Still, after this wearing year, a year of morgue-trucks and uncertainty and pain, I am still a woman unskilled at womanhood, not new to its arts but still humbler than an apprentice: A supplicant at the door of the temple.

The world calls me out into the light of Hot Vaxxed Girl Summer, to be warm and poised and lush, but the spring is still cold and I am frightened and frozen at the threshold. Each step I take from an isolation in which my body, being alone, had no locus of comparison, is a step back into a world of all-too-familiar shame. Forgiving myself for every untoward fold and hair, every lemurish attempt at eyeliner, every clumsy waddle on thighs like boiled dumplings, forgiving myself for being me, or even just for being, is its own ongoing labor.

Having survived through a plague I want to live every inch of my survival, the world my oyster and I, its irritant little pearl, the gem at the lip of the mantle, to be plucked out and buffed to shining nacre. Instead I’m the oyster, all slime in the throat, eating grit. Still, I lived. My body allowed me to hide and survive and, surely, for this it has earned a little grace.

Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, undid her weaving each night to ward off suitors and buy herself time. I too have much to unthread each time I close my door on the world. From the poor material of myself, I have to spin patience and a little kindness. Hot Vaxxed Girl Summer is coming, and all I can do is set my fat hands to the loom.

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