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February 12, 2010

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Students leave campus to fill restaurants' Spring Fest gaps

ALTHOUGH 22-year-old Ma Jie will graduate from college as a law major this year, she decided to work as a waitress in Shanghai.

Along with about 400 other students, she answered a call from the Shanghai Restaurants Association and came to the city late last month to take a job in an eatery - taking the place of restaurant staff who have gone back to their hometown for the Spring Festival.

About 800 restaurants polled by the association said they were short-handed by 20 to 30 percent for the festival.

Ma and her schoolmate Yang Zheyao are now working for the Caobao Road branch of the Harvest Festival Group, which owns 14 restaurants in the city.

"This will be the first time for us to spend the Spring Festival outside home," she said.

Although the restaurant work has nothing to do with their major, they regarded it a now-or-never experience. They've decided to stay in the city at least through the 2010 World Expo.

"Our parents supported us," Yang said. "At least we have found a job, as generally it's hard for a college student to find a job now."

The waitresses' work was low paying and hard to adapt to at first. Usually their work started at 10:30am, and lasts as long as 10pm on the busiest days. When not at work, Ma is busy finishing up her college requirements.

"We've had absolutely different dining times than common people, usually eating at 10am and 4pm," said Ma. "But the restaurant provided a night snack for us. And now, we have adjusted to the schedule."

They earn about 1,200 yuan (US$171) to 1,500 yuan a month, with full board and lodging. The salary level is far lower than 3,292 yuan, the average monthly salary in the city announced last year. But the women said colleagues and bosses have treated them very well.

Dong Xiao, human resource manager of the group, said the two newcomers performed well, despite expectations.

"We had thought they would be arrogant because they had a good education background, different from others of our waitresses and waiters, but they turned out to be modest and hard working," he said.

Dong said every branch store had some staff going home for the festival, and won't be back until the last 10 days of the month.

"For staff who stayed to work during the holiday, we will give them an extra bonus on the Chinese New Year's Eve," he said.

As with the Harvest Festival, many restaurants in Shanghai have had to make adjustments because of staffing shortages. Jiajia Mini-Dumpling, for example, said it had to cancel food delivery service.

The association said they had to go as far as Hebei, Yunnan and Shaanxi provinces to seek suitable people.

Some new staff members who are still students will go back for study after the holiday ends, but others, most of them newly graduated college students, will stay at least through the Expo, officials said.

"Before, the education background of waiters and waitresses was rather poor in the city," Zhang said. "We don't think such people can perform well during the Expo, so we need more educated ones. College students will be a good choice."


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