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Restaurants seek international workers to relieve staffing shortages

New policies a 'huge sigh of relief' for restaurant owners

4 min read
caption Kitchen staff prepare meals on Saturday at the Stubborn Goat in Halifax, a restaurant owned by Geir Simensen and Joe McGuinness.
Gabrielle Brunette

Restaurant owners are relieved after the province made it easier for them to hire international workers and address staffing shortages created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The biggest challenge right now, or one of the biggest challenges right now for restaurants would be the labour shortage issue,” said Natasha Chestnut, association and marketing administrator for the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia.

In a release earlier this month, the province said they are adding “food counter attendants, kitchen helpers, related support occupations, food and beverage servers and light duty cleaners” to the occupations in demand stream of immigration.

This makes it easier for restaurants to bring in the skilled international workers they need by eliminating some of the existing barriers, such as filing labour market impact assessments. These workers now won’t have to wait six months before applying to the Nova Scotia’s Provincial Nominee Program.

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Geir Simensen and Joe McGuinness are behind Legendary Hospitality, which owns multiple restaurants in Halifax, including Salt Yard Social, a seasonal restaurant that opened on the waterfront earlier this summer.

Simensen and McGuinness were delayed in opening the new location and closed a month early due to staffing shortages.

“I think what’s happened with each lockdown is that it’s been more and more people that have just been like, maybe the food industry isn’t for me,” Simensen said.

The pair also own the Stubborn Goat, Antojo Tacos + Tequila, Durty Nelly’s and the Rooftop.

Simensen applauded the changes.

“You know, that’s exactly what we need. Well, I mean, if the local workforce isn’t here, it’s not all of a sudden just going to happen. So, you know, we have a lot of people that would love to move to Canada and if we have the work then let’s bring them in,” Simensen said.

caption Posters remind customers to wear masks and provide proof of vaccinations outside the Stubborn Goat Gastropub on Nov. 27.
Gabrielle Brunette

Restaurant workers have faced difficult situations during the pandemic, dealing with customers who refuse to wear masks or follow safety precautions.

“At a time when we should all be coming together and being nice, there’s definitely some that have taken it out on this industry, and that’s unfortunate,” Simensen said.

Daphne Poy, a server and bartender at the Brown Hound Public House, said they left the industry due to stress, harassment and overwork. Part of their job was enforcing the continually changing COVID protocols in the workplace, something they found difficult.

“I think it’s so hard for people to realize that, like, people who work in customer service are also humans …  that they are not just … service robots,” they said.

Poy has since returned to the restaurant industry, working for Almonak and Kyo Kitchen & Bar.

caption Customers dine at the Stubborn Goat Gastropub on Saturday.
Gabrielle Brunette

Andrew Stevens, manager of the school of business and creative industries at Nova Scotia Community College, said there is no shortage of jobs available for graduates of hospitality programs in the province.

“Even pre-pandemic, the demand for skilled labour in restaurants, in hospitality and food service was more than the number of graduates that the college is able to support,” he said.

The college works with the restaurant association and other organizations to ensure programs adapt to meet the needs of the workforce, Stevens said.

Phase five of the province’s COVID-19 re-opening plan allows restaurants to operate at full capacity with minimal restrictions, but many struggle to do so without a full staff.

“I am working on staffing for next summer, that’s my full-time gig right now, because on the waterfront we are going to need to hire about 160 people. So, I’m a little terrified about that, to be quite honest,” Simensen said. He is working to bring in 10 to 12 international workers to his restaurants.

Bill Pratt, owner of 21 restaurants in the region, said that none of his businesses are operating on a full-time basis due to staffing shortages.

“I think the announcement was great news. But like during COVID, we had a lot of great news, but it took weeks and months to get it. We don’t have weeks and months,” he said.

Pratt is also looking to bring in international workers into his restaurants. He said bringing in these workers is necessary for the continuation of his businesses.

The restaurant association also backs the changes.

“Anything we can do to make recruitment easier and more streamlined for the restaurants will be helpful. Seeing the changes with the immigration program should open up some doors and help with the recruitment struggles that restaurants are having,” Chestnut said.

“It will not solve it entirely, but I think it’s a good step and it’s going to be helpful.”

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  1. H


    Let's see what these guys are offering for wages and conditions. Based on the indeed app. Legendary Hospitality Group: Durty Nellys: line cook, full time. $15/h + dental, medical, rrsp match. Education required. Experience required. Must be available days/nights/weekends/holidays. Stubborn Goat: PT Dishwasher, $13/h. Antojo: no jobs posted The rooftop: no jobs posted Bill Pratt - AKA Chef Inspired group of restaurants Cheesecurds/ Habenaros - line cook: no wage listed. No benefits offered. Ad mentions that managers get benefits but the position isn't for management so I'm not sure why they point that out. Upstreet- supervisor, $14-$17/h no benefits mentioned. Cook, $14-$17/h no benefits mentioned. Studio East: no jobs posted Terra Rossa: no jobs posted Gecko Bus: no jobs posted.
  2. F


    Why offer the better wages, hours, benefits, treatment, etc. demanded by the market when you can just use some desperate immigrants that will put up with anything under threat of deportation to suppress wages? The system works.
  3. P


    If they can't outsource the labour, the insource the low paid workers. These "business owners" need to begin to understand that in the past their businesses ran on extremely low paid skilled labour, and that going forward they are going to have to provide more value for their employees as well as for their customers. Some will reach down for those magical bootstraps and pull themselves up, while others will simply fail and close up shop, allowing other more creative and effective entrepreneurs the space to grow and develop new and better ideas. That's how a free market is supposed to work after all isn't it? Innovate or die, and stop relying on the forced misery of your wage slave workers.
  4. J


    Getting sick of reading these one-sided, poorly researched corporate propaganda pieces. There is no shortage of workers, there is a shortage of decent-paying jobs. Programs like these import workers who can be legally exploited by an employer who refuse to pay people enough to live. Please learn some critical thinking skills.
    • Y


      Here is some critical thinking for you! Selling a 20$ plate that most of you here would find expensive to start with barely makes a profit. The food cost is rising fast and accounts for more than 30% of the price you pay. Yet you expect restaurants to pay wages that are not realistic. 20$/ hours restaurant staff work in establishment that serve 40 to 60$ plates. The food industry is greedy and broken where both ends of process chain suffer the most while profits stay with the wealthy. Business owners are trying there best to be competitive, so perhaps your critical thinking could go a little further than your nose and what you read on Facebook thread. You want change in human right than your picking a fight with the wrong people. Considering high paying good jobs in these conditions they aren’t all that hard to find and anyone with a decent resume has an opportunity to show their worth. Ps: In the restaurant business you can make quite a bit of money with a little motivation, tips and all!
      • A

        Angry Disabled Person

        Found the underpaying restaurant owner.
        • B

          Bob the activist

          Found the person lacking in critical thinking ^^^
  5. M


    In the past, businesses increased wages to entice workers in a tight labour market. Law of supply and demand and all that. Now they just bring in the equivalent of modern day slaves.
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