Just as B.C. restaurants see dining restrictions eased as part of the province’s re-start plan, the industry is now faced with another major struggle: A significant labour shortage,
“It’s unfortunate that we came back with such a positive Stage 3, and for all the restaurants in the Okanagan looking so forward to re-opening,” said Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association (BCRFA).
“And now they’re dealing with yet another … which is nothing short of a crisis, frankly, in the labour side.”
According to the BCRFA, the industry has lost about 40,000 workers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People have left the industry,” Tostenson told Global News. “If you are relying on a restaurant for a job to pay your rent and we closed for two months, that doesn’t go over very well, so we lost a lot of people.
“They want to tech, they went to construction, they went to food delivery. But they just left the industry because we were not dependable.”
Many others, who were laid off, are still collecting Employment Insurance (EI) benefits and have not yet returned to work full time
“A lot of people are still on employment insurance benefits. And, so, unfortunately, they’re working minimum hours and are collecting the federal benefit,” Tostenson said.
“We understand that, but we’re also saying let’s come on back.”
At Memphis Blues Barbeque House in downtown Kelowna, owner Andre Thomas is down about 25 per cent in staffing levels.
“It’s very, very difficult,” Thomas said. “Honestly, in 25 years in this business, this is the hardest it’s been to find staff.”
It’s meant putting in a lot of extra hours to help fill the gap.
“I would say right now someone could walk into any restaurant in Kelowna and get a job instantly,” he said.
At the Mid-Town Station Kitchen and Drink restaurant, owner Dave Lindsay said finding servers and other staff is very challenging right now.
“We’re hiring,” Lindsay said. “Cooks, managers, dishwashers, everything. All of the above. It’s every position right now.”
As restaurants scramble to find workers, many restaurateurs say they may have no choice but to make operational changes to get through the labour shortage.
“It’s going to be reduced hours, it’s going to be menus that are reduced and we certainly see that,” said Lindsay.
“A lot more people have cut back on menus just to make sure that they can maintain a great product and get it done.”
Thomas agreed, adding he’s worried about the toll the shortage may take on the restaurant employees who are working.
“We would possibly consider closing one day a week, which is the last thing we want to do, with the past year and a half and how difficult COVID has been,” he said.
“But it might be the only solution to keep people sane.”
Tostenson asked the dining public for patience as restaurants get back into the swing of things while they deal with the labour shortage,
“We might be a little slower at times don’t get frustrated with us,” he said.
“The person at your table, it might just be their first job, very likely it’s their first job. They’re probably a little scared, too.”