restaurant staff toronto

Toronto restaurants are being forced to close temporarily due to a shortage of staff

Staff shortages have been hitting Toronto restaurants hard as they reopen, paradoxically forcing some of them to close temporarily.

Bombay Snack Bar posted on social media on July 15 they were temporarily closed for four weeks due to "an acute staff shortage," continuing, "We are looking for energetic people for FOH and BOH."

On Aug. 12, they finally posted they'd be reopening Aug. 25, but it's far from an easy road. Even then they'll be reopening for dinner shift only as they only have staff for one shift.

"We have been looking for all positions, line cooks, sous chef, restaurant supervisor, servers and kitchen helpers," Bombay Snack Bar owner Hemant Bhagwani tells blogTO. "We have been looking for these jobs to fill since the last three months. We have advertised everywhere."

That includes Canada's government job bank website, and Bhagwani says even through there they're not getting many local people applying, "mostly foreigners."

"We have also tried with higher salaries and most come in asking for cash money. The impact has been temporary closure of...Bombay Snack Bar and reduced hours at Goa and Popa," says Bhagwani, referring to two other restaurants of his.

"We have five restaurants scheduled to open in the next three months and the staffing is delaying all these projects. Our worry is we might lose businesses."

Saffron Spice Kitchen has also been having trouble finding staff such as part-time cashiers, kitchen help and cooks after having gone in and out of lockdowns.

Students that usually came looking for work were dealing with online schooling stress, people were worried about getting sick commuting on public transit, and some of their older chefs refused to come to work until the pandemic was over.

"Overall, everyone was afraid to leave their house," Saffron Spice Kitchen owner Priya Mahendran tells blogTO.

"Thankfully, we were able to rehire the staff that we temporarily let off but some of them did end up finding other part time jobs elsewhere. Being understaffed is very stressful because it usually means the owners will have to come in and work on top of all the other stresses of running a restaurant in the middle of a pandemic."

President of restaurant consulting agency The Fifteen Group David Hopkins says hospitality industry employees will need to be "confident that lockdowns are a thing of the past" in order to be more eager to return to work.

"Using England as a frame of reference, this crisis likely won't quickly resolve itself," Hopkins tells blogTO.

"They reopened ahead of Canada and experienced staffing shortages before we did. Now, a few months into their reopenings, they continue to struggle with a limited pool of workers."

A recent study of U.S. job seekers states that "over 50 per cent of former hospitality workers who are looking for other work say that no pay increase or incentive would make them return to their old restaurant, bar, or hotel job."

To try to combat ongoing staffing shortages, Hopkins advises restaurants to invest in employees holistically rather than just offering signing bonuses, improving employee "perks" like staff meals and redistributing tips, and offering more balance, flexibility and advance notice when it comes to shifts.

He also advises restaurants to adjust their operations as a whole to help with staffing issues by doing things like raising menu prices and adjusting hours to maximize staff resources.

Il Covo owner Ryan Campbell says his staff haven't left the hospitality industry, but his chef de cuisine and senior sous chef have both moved on to opportunities at other restaurants, meaning he's had to shift into hiring mode. He's just recruited a new sous who starts Sept. 1.

"Hiring can be a little tricky at times but I just like to get fully into the groove of the process, collect as many resumes as possible, interview as many people as possible. We receive resumes with little experience quite often but next thing you know we've got a young firecracker on our hands," says Campbell.

"The current crew, starting with myself of course, just need to work a few extra hours to cover the stations until our new friends start. We work hard but always have fun, even in the toughest times."

Lead photo by

Hector Vasquez

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