Restaurants inch closer to pre-pandemic staffing levels

As the ongoing struggles from supply chain delays, inflation, and staffing shortages continue, the restaurant industry is slowly on its way to recovery. Studies show that while the restaurant industry remains 2.1 per cent below staffing from pre-pandemic days, 339,000 jobs were added last month, well above the predicted 195,000. This good news comes with a few challenges, too, with hourly earnings continuing to rise over 4.3 per cent over the past year, and bankruptcy filings up 116 per cent over 2022.

Even though May marked the highest job growth since January, about half of restaurants are unprofitable right now, compared to 12 per cent before the pandemic. And while some restaurants are reporting that they are back to pre-pandemic levels, they seem to represent a very small minority.

As the numbers slowly head in the right direction, many operators are still facing staff shortages, continuing to adjust their menus, hours, and operations to try to offset their costs. Some restaurants have even had to cut back on their operating hours to give staff the rest they need to continue to do their jobs.

As summer brings a busy season of eager diners, some operators are worried about not having the staffing levels to meet the demand. “It’s extremely difficult for restaurants to find staff,” says Olivier Boudreau, vice president of federal affairs at Restaurants Canada. “We just don’t have enough workers.” And that doesn’t just mean servers, there is a shortage of chefs and line cooks, as well.

Many restaurants are also facing Covid-related debt, which has Restaurants Canada calling on the government to extend the loan payback date past December 31 to allow operators more time to get back on their feet. An estimated 20 per cent will be unable to pay back those loans, which will likely see the bankruptcy numbers rise again.

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As they prepare for the summer season, many restaurants are keeping a strict watch on their inventory, adjusting their portion sizes, and creating smaller, tighter menus to try and stay profitable. Even as the jobs increase and the labour shortage starts to slow, restaurants will need to focus on efficiency to address these issues and continue on the slow path to recovery.