Better Pay, Benefits, and Balance

Restaurant owners say they have the answer to the current labour shortage: Better pay, benefits and balance

As the hospitality industry struggles to rebuild from the pandemic, it’s facing a mountain of unfilled jobs. Some restaurant owners say they have a solution: offer prospective hires more pay, better benefits and a more supportive work environment.

Employment in the food services and accommodation sector is still down more than 200,000 jobs from what it was before the pandemic, according to Statistics Canada. But the low employment is not only a function of businesses struggling under lockdown, it’s also because workers haven’t returned to jobs they held before the pandemic. The number of job vacancies – positions that businesses have advertised but can’t fill – climbed to nearly 160,000 in August.

Those in the restaurant industry have cited a range of reasons for the labour crisis, including workers moving into other industries that did not suffer lockdowns and front-line employees getting tired of heightened abuse from customers. But some restaurant operators say the key to recruiting and retaining staff right now is to just make the jobs themselves better.

When Tamara Jensen and her husband opened Dispatch restaurant in St. Catharines, Ont., in 2019, they took an unusual step. They eliminated tipping and guaranteed employees a salary that was to be no lower than the region’s livable wage ($18.90 an hour). That rate is higher than the industry average of $17.28, which has not budged during the pandemic despite the tightness of the labour market.

Ms. Jensen said banning gratuities ended the traditional tension between servers, who get most of the tips, and kitchen staff, along with providing staff a stable, predictable income.

“We’ve had employees apply for mortgages and we were able to say, this is what they earn, on paper, this is what they’re paying tax on,” she said.

When the pandemic hit, Ms. Jensen and her husband made further changes to the restaurant’s operations. They limited the restaurant’s serving days to four to enhance work-life balance and they started offering health and dental benefits to staff.

“The pandemic made us realize that [long hours] aren’t necessary,” she said. “We can function, we can have a business that generates revenue and not have to work seven days a week and a million hours.”

Michael Kapusty, restaurant manager at Dispatch since it opened, said he had been accustomed to working 14-hour days, five or six days a week, at other establishments but his physical and mental health have improved with a better work-life balance.

“It really is a less-is-more approach,” he said.

The food services sector has traditionally had a high churn rate of employees, in part because of the high-stress environment. Not 9 to 5, an advocacy group for hospitality workers, surveyed 673 of them this summer and found more than half expressed feeling anxiety or burnout. Of those, more than half cited alcohol as a way to cope with stress. The survey was funded by the federal government’s Future Skills program.

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Source: The Globe and Mail
Author: Chris Hannay

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