Photo: Eric Cucciaioni
Freeman King, back left, bought into the Beefy King chain 50 years ago. Smith passed the business to his son, Rowland, center, who in turn passed it to his daughter, Shannon Woodrow, right.
A Day in the Working Life
Accommodations and Restaurants
» $37.3 billion
» 4.4% of Florida’s GDP
» GDP rank: No. 9
» Employment: 932,105
» 8.54% of total employment
» Employment rank: 4
There is no federal data category labeled “tourism.” The closest surrogates are the accommodations and food services category, and the arts, entertainment and recreation category — both of which, of course, capture a lot of nontourist dollars.
By itself, the accommodation and restaurant category generates $37.3 billion in economic activity. When arts, spectator sports, museums and related activities are included, the figure jumps to $53.42 billion; combined employment of the two sectors is 1.2 million.
» Housekeeper, Walt Disney World
6 1/2 Hours, 18 Rooms
Every morning at 8, Joy Mullen shows up for work at Disney’s All-Star Music Resort, a 1,600-room hotel at Walt Disney World. A housekeeper, she signs in, picks up her keys and loads up her cart. By the time that’s done, she usually has about 6½ hours to clean 18 rooms — about half an hour per room.
Mullen must sanitize the bathroom and dust every surface in the room, including air vents. She has to replace the soaps and shampoos, take out the trash and vacuum the floors. She has to change the sheets if there’s a stain or a tear or if a guest is checking out. A manager inspects her work; miss more than one thing — a hair behind the toilet, a smudge on a mirror — and there might be a reprimand.
It’s exhausting work, physically and mentally. “Everybody’s aggravated all the time,” Mullen says. “We’re tired. We’re sore.”
Mullen, 29, has been a Disney housekeeper since 2011. She had just moved to Florida from Rhode Island with her mother and needed a job immediately. She was offered a job in merchandise, but she had worked in retail before and didn’t like it. And the housekeeping job paid an extra dollar an hour — $8.35.
A little more than four years later, she’s making $10.02 an hour. Between that and her mother’s disability insurance, the pair can afford an apartment and a car, but not cable or internet. She hopes to move up at Disney.
A higher wage would help greatly, she says. But she would also like to see employers help entry-level workers transition to better careers.
“People in my field should have more opportunities and training to better themselves,” Mullen says. “Because a lot of the women — and men — who do this do it because it’s all they know. And we’re just told we’re here to do a job and do it well and that’s it.”
» President, TradeWinds
TradeWinds Islands Resorts, a two-hotel property with more than 800 rooms on St. Pete Beach, began the year with about 950 employees. But Keith Overton, TradeWinds’ president, says the company needs about 1,200 during peak times.
It’s getting more and more difficult to bridge that gap as Florida tourism continues to grow and Florida unemployment declines. “We’re missing the mark in both quantity of applicants and quality of applicants.”
TradeWinds has tried to attack the problem on multiple fronts. It has raised entry-level pay from about $8.50 an hour to $10 an hour and adjusted higher wage levels accordingly, a move that Overton says cost the company about $2.4 million per year. It also has offered $2,000 bonuses to workers who have worked at competing hotels for four or more years and $1,000 bonuses to workers with relevant experience. TradeWinds also put $160,000 into a recruiting campaign that included TV spots during college football bowl games and radio and billboard advertisements.
“Every person I talk to is dealing with the same thing,” Overton says.
» Owners, Beefy King
About 50 years ago, a home-construction worker in Detroit in his mid-40s named Freeman Smith got tired of living a life of frenzied summers and quiet winters. So he moved his family to Orlando and bought the first franchise in what looked like a budding chain of restaurants. All of the other Beefy Kings closed. But the original Beefy King remains, peddling the same steamed beef sandwiches and tater tots from the same swivelchair restaurant it started with in 1968. Roland Smith, Freeman Smith’s son, inherited the business from his father and has since passed it on to his daughter, Shannon Woodrow, whose husband helps manage the restaurant. Beefy King reflects the industry. Seven in 10 restaurants are single-unit operations, according to the National Restaurant Association, and nine in 10 have fewer than 50 employees. Smith says 2015 was one of Beefy King’s best years yet with nearly $1 million in sales. It sometimes sells 500 sandwiches in a day. “It’s kept my family, my daughter’s family, my parent’s family — all three generations — living a lifestyle we’re very comfortable with,” Smith says.
39,325 – Number of eating and drinking places in Florida in 2014
$26.4 billion – Projected sales in 2015 Source: Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association