Montreal restaurants keen to open patios, but staffing shortages may cause delays

·3 min read
Michael Lafaille, owner of restaurant Kwizinn, said he's struggling to find staff so that he can open in time for the May 28 easing of restrictions. (Submitted by Michael Lafaille - image credit)
Michael Lafaille, owner of restaurant Kwizinn, said he's struggling to find staff so that he can open in time for the May 28 easing of restrictions. (Submitted by Michael Lafaille - image credit)

Michael Lafaille, owner of restaurant Kwizinn, wants to open his patio as soon as possible.

On Tuesday, the government announced that outdoor dining would be allowed as of May 28.

However, Lafaille doesn't think he'll be ready in time.

"The main issue here is to find new staff. I'm going crazy here putting ads everywhere," he told CBC's Daybreak.

His restaurant, located at the newly renovated Saint-Hubert Plaza, has a 22-seat patio, or terrasse, as it's usually known in Montreal.

But before he can welcome back guests for the first time in months, he needs staff to cook, clean and serve them.

"The big problem is to get the CVs to come in," he said. "We want our people back and we're hoping to keep them for the long-term."

He said after many people lost their jobs during the first wave of the pandemic, some in the industry have moved on.

"I know cooks who became plumbers and who went into construction instead."

Lafaille said in order to retain staff, they need reassurance that more closures aren't on the way.

"People want to make sure it's going to be back for real."

Anthony Gentile Jr., owner of Cafe Gentile, said he has a lot to do in the next 10 days if he wants to open his patio in time.
Anthony Gentile Jr., owner of Cafe Gentile, said he has a lot to do in the next 10 days if he wants to open his patio in time.(CBC)

Anthony Gentile Jr., owner of Cafe Gentile, is also working on rebuilding his team. He said over the past year, he's had to lay off more than 30 employees.

"A lot of people in this industry have chosen other careers and I don't blame them," he told CBC.

Gentile said he's working hard to gear up for a May 28 reopening, but "there's a lot to be done in 10 days."

"I'm getting the feeling of butterflies just to start seating people and taking their orders and talking to people. So it's gonna be great, it's going to be very stressful, but it's like riding a bike, we're going to get into it very quickly."

Cafe Gentile is one of the lucky restaurants with a patio that will be allowed to open as of May 28.
Cafe Gentile is one of the lucky restaurants with a patio that will be allowed to open as of May 28.(CBC)

Gentile said the most difficult part of the past year has been the uncertainty for his business. He wishes the communication from the government had been more clear.

"We're hearing it at the same time as everyone else is hearing it and it's kind of frustrating that we've been in the dark this whole time," he said.

Some restaurants waiting for street closures

Another stumbling block for restaurant owners is the fact that many patios aren't even built yet.

Lee-Ann Millaire-Lafleur, co-owner of Resto Palme on Ste-Catherine Street East, said she's waiting on the city before she can open her outdoor dining space.

"Our street is pedestrian, so we're also going to have to wait for the city to tell us when they're going to make it pedestrian so we can build our terrasses."

A stretch of Ste-Catherine Street East is closed each summer and many businesses convert their sidewalk spaces into patios.
A stretch of Ste-Catherine Street East is closed each summer and many businesses convert their sidewalk spaces into patios.(Benjamin Shingler/CBC)

Millaire-Lafleur said the opening is "a big source of stress right now" and she's not sure when she can start receiving customers again.

"Obviously, we would have liked to have just a little more time to prepare."

The other problem? "We don't have enough staff."

Like the others, Millaire-Lafleur has noticed that people have been abandoning the food service industry in favour of more stable prospects.

"The people we laid off at the beginning of the pandemic, some have found other jobs and other opportunities and are not willing to come back," she said.