Nova Scotia

Struggling with staff shortages, Cape Breton restaurants face tough decisions

After the pandemic forced restaurants to lay off their employees, one Sydney restaurateur said many of those workers took the time to reconsider their career paths, while others are remaining off work as they collect employment insurance benefits. 

At least 1 restaurant on the island was forced to close Saturday due to a shortage of workers

Sydney restaurant owner Danny Ellis says the staff at his eateries are tired, but he can't find extra workers to take on shifts. (Erin Pottie/CBC)

A restaurateur in Sydney, N.S., says he's mulled over the possibility of closing one of his restaurants for a day a week due to a shortage of hospitality workers. 

"Right now, it's something that we're toying with," said Danny Ellis, who owns and operates four eateries in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. 

After the pandemic forced restaurants to lay off their employees, Ellis said many of those workers took the time to reconsider their career paths, while others remain off work as they collect employment insurance benefits. 

Ellis said he's made numerous job postings for servers, cooks and bartenders that have gone unanswered. Because there are so few workers available to cover shifts, Ellis said his staff are becoming fatigued. 

"It's not unusual to work 60 to 70 hours and not get a day off," he said. 

Ellis said the hunt for hospitality workers is becoming competitive, with higher wages offered at some seasonal restaurants on the island. Right now, he's looking for any employees who are available to work. 

"If you're warm-blooded and able, we're willing to train you … we're just looking for bodies. We'd like trained chefs and cooks, they don't exist," he said.

Michele Stephens has been managing her family's Yellow Cello Café in Baddeck for 16 years. (Submitted by Michele Stephens)

Michele Stephens said finding kitchen staff has been a problem at her family-run business in Baddeck, which is now operating with a skeleton crew.

"We're kind of walking the razor's edge. If one person has an issue, they can't come to work for whatever reason, it would put us in a pretty bad situation," said Stephens, the manager of the Yellow Cello Café.

Stephens and Ellis said governments need to step up and provide increased financial aid as businesses look to recoup losses brought on by the pandemic. 

"There was a little bit more of that available last year for use in the form of wage subsidies and one-time loans," said Stephens. 

At least one restaurant in Inverness was forced to temporarily shut its doors over the weekend as a result of having too few servers available to wait tables.

A help wanted sign is posted on the door leading into Route 19's retail space. The business was forced to shut down a restaurant inside the brewery on Saturday due to a shortage of staff. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Evan Gillis, a part owner of Route 19 Brewing, said it is difficult for businesses in rural areas to attract workers and for those workers to find a place to stay. 

"We don't want to be providing lacklustre service and whatever it is that ... you may experience at a spot that's a little short-staffed," Gillis said. 

"It's been a challenge and I'm hoping we can get over this and continue on. But it's been, you know, extremely difficult and frustrating."

Gillis said they are now considering reducing some of the restaurant's hours, as they work to find a balance of when they can open with the staff that are available.