Some restaurant employees in Quebec who were either laid off or decided to pursue a career elsewhere during the COVID-19 pandemic don’t plan to return to the industry.
This comes after some COVID-19 regulations in Quebec were eased. Restaurants will be allowed to reopen and operate according to the implemented health measures starting today, January 31.
Indoor dining areas in restaurants can now accommodate customers. In one table, there should only be individuals from two different households or a maximum of four people. A vaccination passport is also required upon entrance. Restaurants can operate at 50% of their indoor seating capacity and should arrange the tables to have at least 1 meter away from each other.
Bars, taverns, and casinos are not yet permitted to reopen.
Stories of Former Restaurant Employees in Quebec
Former restaurant employees share their stories of why they decided not to work again in the industry after they left.
After indoor dining in restaurants in Quebec was prohibited for the second time in 2020, the owners of the Grumman ‘78 taco restaurant decided to close down permanently. This forced Milovan Danielou, a former employee of the restaurant, to find another job.
He said that “everybody was fighting to find even part-time jobs”. The situation in Quebec made it difficult to look for work in the restaurant industry because it was badly hit by the regulations imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Indoor dining areas were not allowed to operate, and there weren’t as many customers because travel restrictions hindered tourists from coming to Quebec.
Danielou is now working as a data entry clerk. He doesn’t find this job as exciting as the one he had in the restaurant. However, it does provide job security and better pay. He now earns $30 per hour and doesn’t have to worry about what will happen to him if stricter COVID-19 regulations are eventually implemented.
He said that “nothing compares to restaurant work, the rush, the drive, the energy, the team, the people you meet. Nothing compares to that”. But, he still has other financial responsibilities to attend to, such as rent and daily living expenses. The joy he found in working in a restaurant needs to take a step back so that he can prioritize surviving during these difficult times.
Liam Thomas is in the same boat as Danielou. Having gone through two lockdowns made him decide to find work in another industry. If only these lockdowns had not happened, he would have chosen to continue working in restaurants.
The working environment in the restaurant was too tense. He was constantly at the receiving end of someone else’s anger throughout his 14-year cooking career. This, together with the possibility of future lockdowns, encouraged him to leave the industry for good.
Thomas now works in a hospital in Montreal as a transport attendant. He assists patients around the hospital so that they can find their way to where they need to go.
The rush experienced when working in the kitchen is something he still looks for at times. But, this is also not enough for him to continue his career in the industry. His work now is more favorable for him because it is not as stressful and he receives a higher salary. There is also more vacation time given to employees.
A member of the Canadian Restaurant Workers Coalition, Kaitlin Doucette, said that the challenges faced by restaurant employees in Quebec are not anything new. This has always been the case ever since. The pandemic just showed light on these conditions.
Restaurant employees in Quebec do not have enough health benefits and paid sick days. At the same time, the nature of their work increases the likelihood of employees experiencing abuse and sexual harrassment.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurant employees in Quebec were also not granted enough financial assistance to survive the lack of wages due to the closure of the establishments they worked in. Federal aid was limited to $300 per week.
Michele Martel said that this aid was not enough to make ends meet. She built a 25-year career in bars, but the COVID-19 pandemic left her with no choice. The federal aid was insufficient and would drain her savings again. Apart from her finances, she also needed to work for her self-esteem.
She is now a part-time employee at a senior’s residence. When the situation in the province is more favorable, she plans to work as a bartender again and, at the same time, continue with her current part-time job. This will allow her to work in the industry that she has grown into and give her the assurance that her finances will not suffer if COVID-19 regulations change again.
Owners Try to Cope with the Lack of Restaurant Employees in Quebec
With the regulations being eased, owners of restaurants, such as Martin Juneau, are challenged with finding enough staff for the reopening of their establishments.
Juneau said that “we had a lot of employees who finally moved on to something else, who wanted to go in a different direction, in a different industry”.
Despite the reopening of indoor dining areas, he remains worried that lockdowns will come again in the near future, especially when fall arrives. He said that he may not have the energy to face the same situation again and cope with the challenges it will bring. He had already closed different businesses permanently when the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Benoit Dessureault said that he was able to retain his longtime employees by providing them with opportunities in a food truck. He owns Chez Delmo, which is located in Old Montreal. Other employees who were laid off were not left without any support. Dessureault looked for other projects that these employees could partake in to cope with the loss of income during the lockdowns.
With the reopening of the restaurants, a different strategy is needed to sustain its operations. Previously, lunchtime was busy because the employees who worked in the nearby offices dined in for their breaks. However, employees have not returned to their offices. This requires the establishment to put more effort in promoting dinner.
He hopes that customers can understand that there are health measures implemented and that they follow these accordingly without any aggression or tension.