Late-night poutine cravings in Quebec City just got more expensive

It's hard to explain why eating fries, cheese curds and gravy seems like a good idea at 1 a.m.

It just sounds right.

But night owls looking to fuel that late-night, post-show craving will have to fork over a few extra pennies in Quebec City as of this week-end.

The well-known fast-food chain Ashton has added a 12 per cent surcharge for every poutine, burger or roast beef sandwich sold between midnight and 5 a.m.

The company, which has 24 franchises in the capital, is hiking prices to be able to offer a $4 per hour premium to its night crew — workers that are harder and harder to come by, said Mylène Beaulieu, who is responsible for marketing and communications at Ashton.    

"Almost all our restaurants have had to cut down their hours," said Beaulieu.

Until recently, Ashton restaurants were known to be open well after bars made their last call, said Beaulieu.

Now only two still offer the service — one, on Grande Allée, is open until 4 a.m.; the other, on Saint-Joseph Street, is open 24 hours a day.

But they were reaching a breaking point, said Beaulieu. That's why the company is now offering a $16.50 hourly wage to employees willing to work the graveyard shift.

Julia Page/CBC

The company was already offering a $2 per hour night premium, but it couldn't afford to go higher, said Beaulieu. That left only one other option.

"Several customers approached us and told us, 'We're willing to pay more to allow you to open at night,'" said Beaulieu. 

Sign of the times

With more than 116,000 jobs unfilled in Quebec's private sector, business owners are having to be more creative and more aggressive in their recruitment and retention methods, according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

Simon Gaudreault, the federation's senior director of national research, said Ashton may be the first to adopt this kind of sliding price scale, but he said consumers should expect others to follow suit, in one form or another.

"Businesses have absolutely no choice but to react right now so they can they can stay in business," he said.

Julia Page/CBC

Companies have been offering more flexible hours, more generous salaries and have had to tap into the "non-traditional labour pool," said Gaudreault.

Consumers should also expect higher prices, he said, because some items will necessarily go up.

This isn't the first time prices at Ashton have been affected by the labour shortage.

Last year, the company shortened its annual promotion called Rabais Météo — a discount on poutine during the coldest days of January.

For example, buying a poutine on a day when it is –30 degrees Celcius came with a 30 per cent discount.

"It's a beautiful problem," said Beaulieu. "The promotion works so well that our reduced teams aren't able to keep up."

In 2019, Ashton had to limit the discount to the first two weeks of January, when CEGEP students aren't yet back in school and are still available to work. The restaurant will be doing the same thing again in 2020.

Julia Page/CBC