Restaurants scrambling to find employees

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Restaurants in Alberta have opened their doors to patrons but are struggling to find the staff to serve them.

During the pandemic, Rocky Mountain Ice House in downtown Edmonton adapted to restrictions by building new front and back patios. General manager Flint Palmer says the biggest issue now is getting enough staff.

In previous years, Palmer used to receive countless resumes.  This is no longer the case, as he is not currently able to find any qualified staff for his restaurant. 

"My inbox was always full of resumes, but they're just not here right now," he said.

It's the same story at The Blues Can bar in Calgary. After having to fundraise earlier this year to keep from shutting down, owner Greg Smith is keen to host live music shows again but needs more employees.

"We're getting days with nothing — absolutely no applications at all," he said. Smith said he's thankful for the staff members who have returned after a long time away.

Both men say the labour shortage is an industry-wide problem.

"We're scrambling for staff right now and unfortunately for whatever reason, everybody is in the same situation," Smith said.


'That's a lot of people'

Before the pandemic, between the Rocky Mountain Ice House and its sister business Cask & Barrel, there were almost fifty employees. Now, Palmer is operating the pub with just six staff members.

On a busy Friday or Saturday night Palmer typically needs dozens of staff members to accommodate all of the customers.  The labour shortage has caused strain on what's left of the staff members, and starting to affect the customer experience quality.  

"That's a lot of people." Palmer says regarding the amount of staff he needs.

In Stage 2 of the COVID-19 reopening plan, indoor dining is allowed with a limit of six people per table and two metres of distance or barriers between tables.  With the looser restriction, a large number of customers are starting to go out more because they feel safe and comfortable eating in a restaurant again.  However, without the right amount of staff, their dining experience has suffered greatly. 

Stage 3 starts July 1st, 2021.  In this stage, nearly all of the public health restrictions will be lifted. As a business that has been struggling through the pandemic, it is great news for Palmer in terms of getting back to normal, but the issue of a lack of staff is making it difficult for him to completely open back up.  

Palmer said he has to be careful given the staffing issue. "I could just open the doors and fill up every seat," he said. "But what that's going to do is overtax my staff, the kitchen is not going to be able to perform properly, customers — the level of service that we strive for just won't be there."  

This problem is not unique to Palmer and Smiths’ restaurants.  There are labour shortages found country-wide.  Going ‘back to normal’ is not as comforting when you aren’t able to deliver the same level of quality to customers as you were pre-pandemic.


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