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Pub Fiction’s co-owner Mark Hodge has seen his restaurant since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic suffer through the rollercoaster of provincial restrictions, health and safety mandates and economic impacts.
And although the Ancaster business remains open, and even thriving to a point, all Hodge is looking for is some stability in the industry.
“We are pushing forward,” said Hodge. “It is looking a little better. But people are so scared of COVID-19. The last thing people would want to see is the Omicron variant.”
He said his business is down about 30 per cent for a typical December, which Hodge blames on the province requiring vaccine certificates and mask mandates.
According to Restaurants Canada, an advocacy group for the industry, about 80 per cent of restaurants have seen their profits decline during the pandemic. Nearly half have consistently lost money for more than a year.
And similar to other area businesses, Hodge is finding it much more difficult hiring staff. He blames the federal government for its generous assistance programs that convinced some prospective employees to stay home rather than seek employment.
But studies have found workers have already returned to work, just not to the restaurant and food sector.
“People feel they can just stay home and not work,” Hodge said. “It’s difficult hiring people back into the workplace.
According to an analysis by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, almost a quarter-million workers in Canada who used to be employed in food and accommodation left and found new jobs, becoming secretaries, or assistants for accountants, lawyers, architects, and other similar employment.
Jobs in food services are about 14.8 per cent below pre-pandemic levels, according to Canada’s labour force survey.
Statistics Canada revealed that since February 2020, average hourly wages for food service workers have increased by just 58 cents between February 2020 and September 2021, from $16.80 to $17.38.
But across all industries, average wages for new workers have jumped 10 per cent, or about $2.09 an hour, according to Statistics Canada in its December jobs report. But wages have remained stagnant for food and beverage servers.
Premier Doug Ford’s decision to increase the minimum wage and boost server’s wages creates an uneven working environment, said Hodge, where servers receive more money than the kitchen workers at the back of the restaurant.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “The timing is not good. We are still dealing with paying rent and meeting payroll. Food and beer prices are rising. There are other restaurants and businesses, which just got fed up and closed.”
Minimum wage for alcohol servers is currently $12.55 per hour, while the general minimum wage is $14.35 per hour. Ontario said starting Jan. 1, 2022, the wage for alcohol services will also be $15 per hour, on par with the general minimum wage increase.
The higher wages, Hodge said, will eventually translate into higher food prices, something he has been delaying because of his customers.
“A lot of people can’t afford it,” Hodge said.
Hodge has managed to navigate the many health and economic obstacles that have stood in his way during the pandemic, including surviving the two-month lockdown, investing in the business, dealing with capacity limits, and adapting to the vaccine certificate mandate.
Hodge has enough staff now that he is reopening on Mondays, as of Dec. 13.
“After the long haul through COVID we are now at a point where we can get back to being open seven days a week and have enough staff to do so,” he said.
He has christened Mondays, “Down to Fiesta” to celebrate everything Mexican. He recently hired a Toronto-based Mariachi Band Mexico Amigo – who are from Mexico City – to play every Monday to help customers enjoy their Mexican food and drink.
STORY BEHIND THE STORY: We wanted to follow up on a story we did early in the pandemic, on the struggles of a local restaurant to keep the doors open during the pandemic.
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Ancaster's Pub Fiction says 'Olé' as it expands service during COVID-19 pandemic – TheSpec.com