With a return to patio dining and limited indoor dining, restaurant owners are now facing some new challenges as they work toward a return to normal. Restaurateurs in west Niagara claim to be feeling a new sense of “desperation” as they struggle to find sufficient staff.
Restaurateurs say they are happy to reopen after various lockdowns, but some admit they are struggling to bring staff back or hire enough new staff to keep up with customer demands.
In the case of Grimsby’s Casa Toscana, the restaurant was able to pay and retain its salaried staff throughout the lockdowns, but is now struggling to hire enough new staff to keep up with customer volume.
This, according to owner Luca Vitali, is because the restaurant is a fine dining establishment and although it offered takeout options during the lockdown, much of its customer base comes in for the on-location fine dining experience.
“Where did all the skilled people go?” asked Vitali, referring specifically to kitchen staff, where he said his restaurant felt the most burden of being understaffed. He's considering outsourcing staff from other countries as a potential solution.
For the time being, Casa Toscana has relied on the Grimsby community to help with its staffing issue by hiring students to work in the kitchen. Of its 29 staff, seven are students between Grades 10 and 12. Last summer, the restaurant had a total staff of 20 and of the nine new hires, six were hired in March of this year.
“Monday, which was our closing day, is now one of our busiest days,” Vitali said.
In order to keep up with customer demand and make up for lockdown losses, Casa Toscana is now open seven days a week instead of six and has limited hours and guaranteed days off to avoid overworking its staff.
Despite the uncertainty of the future, Vitali referred to himself as a “big optimist” and said he has positive hopes going forward.
Rawan Sadeek is the supervisor and part owner of Crabby Joe’s in Beamsville. She said the restaurant lost some of its staff during the lockdowns simply due to a lack of hours. Although staff were brought in to clean when regular hours were not an option, restrictions at the time meant very few staff members could come in at one time and only be given a handful of hours.
“I've been in this industry since I was in high school,” Sadeek said. She said losing employees in the restaurant industry is “inevitable” to an extent.
The need to hire became apparent when managers and supervisors had to step in and take a dramatic increase in hours, she said.
“It's a lot of stress because the thing is, even if there aren't as many customers, there is still a lot of other work behind the scenes,” she said, noting that work becomes more intensive as it falls on the shoulders of fewer employees.
She said resumes can be “limited” in small towns such as Beamsville, so the restaurant has opted to lower its requirements and train new staff.
Although things are “rolling in the right direction,” Sadeek said, she looks forward to a time when the restaurant can be open at full capacity and protocols such as masks and six-foot distances are no longer required, but understands that is some time away.
“We’re taking it day by day; you don't know what the future holds, but the best that we could do is follow the protocols and do the best that we could do,” said Sadeek.
Moosa Imran, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grimsby Lincoln News