The staffing shortage feels different this time. Almost everyone is experiencing it on some level – customers noticing long wait times included! It is widespread, it is urgent and it is not easy to solve.
Operators have few options to attract and keep good staff:
- Pay them more
- Provide benefits
- Provide training and advancement
- Be flexible with hours
- Recognize their good work and talents
- Look to different sources for hiring, e.g., sponsor a chef through the TFW program
A recent story out of Penticton, B.C. brought this point home. A family-owned and operated Penticton, B.C., restaurant has been trying to sponsor a new pizza chef to come to Canada for two-and-a-half years, only to be denied by an immigration officer because the man’s reference in Italy also happened to have the same last name as the owners. The owners also were told that the applicant, who had worked for one restaurant in Italy for 18 years, was not experienced enough. With the help of a lawyer, it appears things have been straightened out. In a story published on Castanet, the owners seem resigned to waiting for the help that may not come and have closed during lunch hour to compensate for the shortage of staff.
Other pizzerias are in the same boat. Summer is here, customers are coming back, demand is up. Right now you’re faced with few options for getting the work done:
Change or shorten hours of operation
- Reduce delivery services, requiring customers to pick up or dine in
- Rely more on current employees
- Remove seating to manage full service
- Purchase equipment to help automate
- labour-intensive tasks
That’s not even factoring in high and unstable costs for food, packaging, rent and other needs – and the decision of if and when to raise prices that many are having to make.
Some labour advocates do not call this a labour shortage. They call it a shortage of jobs that pay a living wage, hazard pay, child care, sick leave and health care. A study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives published a study in October 2021 called “Tipping point: Pandemic forced restaurant and bar workers into better paying jobs” predicts four short-term trends: higher prices in sectors where the increase can be paid by consumers, such as fine dining, self-imposed restrictions in terms of hours or capacity; business models that are reliant on low-wage labour may no longer be viable; changing work practices such as automation, on-demand delivery and more technology in restaurants.”
That’s sobering talk for our industry. But we’ve never been in a crisis this acute.
In fact, these problems, which existed before the pandemic, may require major changes in the way restaurants operate. In April 2020, leading restaurateurs called for a reset – a change in mindset and priorities. The industry should be better, hold itself to a higher standard and be more sustainable. And by sustainable, they are not just talking about reducing, reusing and recycling waste.
They’re talking about a sustainable level of staffing, sustainable level of stress and workload to be handled by your (often bare bones) team. A sustainable way to find new employees that will be with you long term.
They argue speed, high production and filling tables should no longer be the Holy Grail or achieved at the expense of employees’ well-being.
It’s a huge shift that is well worth thinking about. Are you in this business for the long term? Do you plan to grow your business to other locations or retail outlets? Do you want to be a leader in this industry? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, it is worth taking a hard look at your business model. | CP
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