In August 2020 I quit my job at the restaurant I had been working at for three years. I was headed back to school for my final year, and I wanted the eustress of not having a job to motivate me to find one I really wanted. The circumstances of my final year were unprecedented and ultimately the effects of the pandemic have carried over to this summer. After nonstop applying to jobs since finishing classes in April with no success, I sent my former boss an email and asked if he would have a position for me. He answered my email within three minutes with the phrase “Call me now!”

Did you know?

According to Statistics Canada, the food service industry is accounting for nearly two thirds of the total unemployment gap when compared with pre-COVID numbers..

Turns out the restaurant I work at is experiencing a severe staffing shortage. And it is not the only one. According to Statistics Canada, the industry also accounted for almost two-thirds of the overall employment decline since February 2020.

There are a few reasons why food services have been hit particularly hard during the pandemic.

According to Tony Elenis, President and CEO of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association, one of the major factors is age. A very large cohort – the baby boomer generation – are leaving the workforce. Simultaneously, younger generations, who are often more likely to work in the food service industry, are holding off on getting their first jobs due to the pandemic.

But it is not only the direct effects of the pandemic hurting the food services. The industry is also competing with many others for a stable workforce.

“People tend to want to find something to feel secure and permanent, not the opening and closing that we’ve seen,” said Elenis.

This exact situation happened to a former colleague of mine. As one of the most senior members of the team, she was kept on staff to do room services throughout the majority of the pandemic. However, due to periodically changing restrictions, she was constantly called on and off. The uncertainty of the employment was not suitable for the young server who has only recently graduated university. This caused her to leave the workplace entirely.

Nonetheless, when patios reopened on June 11, many were working under immense pressure, including mine.

Service is a lot of physical work. The restaurant that I work has three flights of stairs in the kitchen alone. It is also part of a hotel that is spread across three different buildings. I’m usually clocking 15,000 steps. And that’s not even a busy day.

You can imagine that running room services as well as serving in the patio has me wiped out by the end of the day – a typical shift lasts between eight and 10 hours.

Yet it is the mental pressure that really gets to me.

Protocol is constantly changing, and it can be very hard to keep up. When I started back at work no one told me that it was mandatory we filed a COVID questionnaire prior to each shift. The supervisors had thought they got the news out to everyone but that was not the case. It is little things like this that occupy space in my brain.

Am I wearing the proper PPE? How do I keep my goggles from fogging up in this 30-degree weather? Did I wash my hands after clearing those dirty plates? Did I sanitize that table before new guests sat down?

To makes matters a little more complicated, each supervisor has their own way of doing things.

I say none of this out of spite for the food service industry. In all honesty, I love my job and I am happy that they had a position for me when I was in need of employment. But it is important to recognize that just because you can go to a patio again does not mean everything behind the doors is running how it did in the summer of 2019.

Rebuilding the industry will take time. It will not bounce back the second the pandemic is over.

“We’re looking at a couple of years before we state that we are getting numbers that are able to sustain the industry,” said Elenis. He added that as COVID dwindles, so will government aid, further contributing to the industry’s burden.

From a business standpoint, he is calling on the provincial and federal government for financial relief.

For me, I am asking that if you choose to go to a patio, please respect the workers.