Sask. restaurant owners scramble to hire ahead of Step 2 easing of restrictions
Restaurants can operate at full capacity starting Sunday, as per Step 2 of the province’s reopen plan
While many Saskatchewan restaurant owners are excited to welcome more customers next week, for many, it also brings some anxiety.
Saskatchewan's set to begin Phase Two of its reopening plan on Sunday, which allows restaurants to operate at full capacity, as long as tables are physically distanced from each other.
But to fully reopen, restaurants need to hire a full staff — and it hasn't been easy.
According to Jim Bence, president and CEO of the Saskatchewan Hotel and Hospitality Association, as COVID-19 restrictions ease, recruitment has proven to be a challenge.
"We're going back to that labour pool and finding that there's not much available labour there, so it's going to be quite competitive for the next couple of months as we really start to gear up," Bence said.
Tony Yang, owner of Tipsy Samurai and Wann Izakaya Japanese Gastropub in Regina, has had online job ads up for nearly a month, with little to no luck filling positions.
Over the pandemic, he had to lay off much of his staff, leaving it to him and his management team to pick up where they left off in the kitchen for the last 15 months.
After calling his former employees to see if they'd like their old jobs back, Yang said about 70 to 80 per cent declined the offer.
"They had already switched to a different job or they already have a new job or they don't want to work in the [restaurant] industry anymore — that's what I got in the responses from them," he explained.
Jason Clark, general manager of the Delta Bessborough in Saskatoon, has had similar conversations with the staff he's tried to rehire.
"We're finding that, after 15 months, a lot of individuals have actually made different life decisions and have decided to move along," he said.
Clark added he foresees recruitment in the industry being a prolonged problem as the economy starts to recover.
"We'll see more normalcy building through 2022, but I really don't think you're going to feel how it was back in 2019 until we hit 2023," he estimated.
Bence agreed that a return to a pre-pandemic restaurant experience isn't likely for another roughly two years.
However, in the meantime, Bence said he finds optimism knowing Saskatchewan's in a better position than some other provinces because restaurants remained mostly open during the pandemic.
He noted it's allowed most restaurant owners to stay in contact with their employees and, in some cases, keep them employed on a part-time level.
"There's been a connectivity that's been there that other provinces haven't had for many, many months," Bence said.
Still, he noted, the hotel and hospitality association is working with the Saskatchewan government on strategies business owners can use to retain workers in the industry, and recruit others from across Canada and around the world.
- A previous version of this story stated easing of restrictions begin Monday, June 21. In fact, they begin Sunday, June 20.Jun 17, 2021 9:15 AM CT
With files from Leisha Grebinksi