Bradford restaurants were overjoyed to have customers return for an indoor dining experience after the provincial government announced the transition to Stage 3 nearly five days ahead of schedule.
But many local restaurant owners are short-staffed and speculate former employees have moved on to other opportunities while waiting out the pandemic lockdowns.
“Our weekend was really good,” explains Noe Martinez, owner of Hay Carumba Mexican restaurant on Holland Street. “But not as (much) as we really want to. We were super busy inside and outside but unfortunately not enough staff. So, we have to be careful (about) the amount of people sitting.”
Martinez said he had to turn off their third-party take-out apps to concentrate on the patrons who came in person to support and enjoy indoor dining again.
Similarly, Boston Pizza in Bradford has also been facing challenges as the restaurant desperately seeks more staff to sustain their new capacity levels for both indoor and outdoor dining.
“We have been so insanely busy since the patio was allowed to open in June,” said Meagan Lewis, General Manager for Boston Pizza in Bradford. “We are extremely grateful for the ongoing support of the community.
"However it’s been a challenge," said Lewis. "To say staffing in this industry has become a huge issue is an understatement. We are so short staffed it’s not even funny. No one is applying.”
Lewis explains that although reopening inside has made things easier in terms of not having to worry about capacity levels on the patio or logistically figuring out where people will sit, the restaurant has been experiencing slower than normal patterns for this time of year.
In addition, a lack of patience and empathy from customers has admittedly lowered the morale for their hard-working team, she lamented.
“We are trying our very best to serve each guest to the best of our ability in terms of service and food quality because of how short staffed we are,” she says. “Not only are we trying to train multiple people at once, which is difficult in and of itself, but we are busy on top of that.”
Lewis has been personally working 12- to 13-hour shifts and says she has lots of staff working six days a week “just for us to get by.”
Lewis says the franchise held a job fair, promoted online, and posted ads on every internal and external job board, and also provided staff 'referral incentives', but so far the hiring attempts have been unsuccessful.
“You name it, we’ve tried it!” she exclaims in desperation. “Yes, a couple of new people have trickled in here and there, but it’s not enough.”
Balwant Rathour, owner of Uttara Khand Indian restaurant, was excited to celebrate his one-year anniversary this week since opening his restaurant during COVID last year. However, he is more concerned about finding staff to keep his establishment running and says he is hiring for all positions right now.
“Anyone with Smart Serve,” says Rathour of the training course needed to serve alcohol to patrons. “I don’t need people who have long time experience – I can teach – but I need people who are honest and hard working.”
Sabella’s Italian restaurant on Barrie Street in Bradford is also looking for staff, and specifically a chef or kitchen cook. Owner Adel Akhavan says he has encountered some additional issues since returning to indoor dining.
“Obviously, we’ve had people indoors again, but summer is not a good season for us,” admits Akhavan. “We don’t have a nice patio and our food is a ‘full meal’ menu, not finger foods where people can sit down and share on a patio.”
Sabella’s participates in the town’s patio program but states that due to where the patio is situated – facing directly into the hot sun where no umbrella can compete – customers are not eager to sit outside and eat.
Since returning to indoor dining, people have started booking private events again which the restaurant has become popular for.
“It’s very unpredictable at times,” he says, adding it was slow on Friday but busy on Saturday.
Despite any reopening ‘hiccups’ and staff shortages, restaurateurs remain hopeful that business will eventually return to a somewhat normal, steady flow again.
“It’s been great!” shares owner Juan Velazquez of Hacienda Santa Teresa Mexican restaurant, referring to the return to indoor dining. “It’s helped us fit in more people that we previously couldn’t. It’s allowed for bigger groups to book, and on rainy days… it’s allowed us to still have customers, as before we couldn’t have them anywhere else if it rained.”
“When things get back to some sort of normal in September, I expect dine in for us will be used a lot more,” said Salim Bardai, owner of Bradford Freshii.
“(We were) pleasantly surprised with how open and ready people are for indoor dining,” explains Franca Ahmadzai, owner and general manager of Swiss Chalet in Bradford. “I think it's because everyone had their second vaccine.”