Labour shortage forces P.E.I. restaurants to find new ways to stay open

Labour shortage forces P.E.I. restaurants to find new ways to stay open

Some restaurants on Prince Edward Island are doing whatever they can to stay open amid a labour shortage in the province.

Rick’s Fish and Chips in St. Peters Bay has been short-staffed all summer, especially in the kitchen, and forced to stay closed one or two days each week.

“We can’t burn out the people we have. So we really do need to give them some time off,” said co-owner Seana Evans-Renaud.

Ten days ago, some of the workers caught COVID-19, and the restaurant closed for more than a week.

“There’s a huge financial impact obviously, and not just for us as business owners, but also for our employees, who aren’t able to work for 10 days and rely on us for summer employment, and getting their hours for EI.”

It’s a scenario others in the industry are trying hard to avoid.

Island chef and caterer John Pritchard posted on social media yesterday he’s looking for experienced relief cooks for this weekend who have already had Omicron.

He’s offering $30-35 an hour.

A couple of weeks ago, the Inn at Bay Fortune put out a call for dishwashers, offering them a flight to P.E.I. and temporary accommodations until they can find their own place.

The inn’s owner — chef Michael Smith — said he has also moved kitchen staff to a four-day work week, paying them, in many cases, even higher wages than last year to work fewer hours.

Chef Michael Smith, owner of the Inn at Bay Fortune, has gone to a four-day work week for some staff. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

As a result, he said they now have ample staff and have remained open even though some staff missed time due to COVID-19.

“I think in our case we’ve been able to weather the storm well, because of our solid practices that are already entrenched in our business, and the way we value and respect our team.”

Smith said he’s able to offer competitive wages and benefits to his staff by raising the prices on his menu.

With costs rising, and the industry competing for a shrinking pool of workers across Canada, he said customers everywhere should pay more wherever they go to eat.

The kitchen at the Inn at Bay Fortune has managed to remain open despite some COVID-19 absences. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

“This is a broken system.  And we are in a time of transition and we’re all going to have to suck it up, while we figure out  how to properly, fairly price restaurant food.  And while restaurant operators figure out how to properly, fairly treat their team.”

The owners of Rick’s Fish and Chips say they too have raised their prices — and wages. But there’s only so far they can go while there are more jobs available than people to fill them.

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