B.C. restaurants waiting out worker shortage

April 18, 2016

By Glen Schaefer, Vancouver Sun |

The heat is rising for B.C. restaurant owners, as they brace for the busy tourist season while scrambling to overcome a shortage of cooks and kitchen staff.

The shortage comes from an increase in the number of new restaurants, a lack of new staff to replace retiring baby boomers, and changes to the federal government’s temporary foreign workers program that cut the pool of labour to restaurants, industry observers say.

“I need three cooks right away,” Kamal Mroke, owner of India Bistro on Vancouver’s Davie Street, said Monday.

Mroke said he is starting work around 9 a.m. and finishing as late as midnight, doing kitchen work he would normally hire someone to do. “I would like to be up front promoting my restaurant, but I cannot find a skilled worker like a chef, anybody, to work in the kitchen.”

Mroke has been in business for the past 12 years, but he said he’s never worked as hard.

“I’ll go back myself, start cooking in the kitchen,” he said. “My feet are hurting.”

He said fellow restaurateurs are all facing similar staff shortages, and he worries about how they will handle the summer tourist traffic.

B.C. Restaurant Association President Ian Torstenson said the problem exists throughout B.C., and is most acute in restaurant kitchens.

“With wait staff, you’ve got all the university students, and you can train them fast,” Tostenson said. “But the technical side in the kitchen is where the problem is. We’re just not getting enough interest from people wanting to get into the business.”

The good news for the industry is a healthy provincial economy that has new restaurants opening to meet new demand. Their number stood at about 11,000 province-wide in 2013, with 200 to 300 added to that number each year since then, Tostenson said.

“The boomers are retiring, so that’s creating vacancies,” he added, noting that not enough young Canadians have replaced them.

Changes to the federal government’s temporary foreign worker program made just over a year ago choked off another flexible supply of workers, Tostenson said.

“That just stopped any ability for restaurants to get labour they can’t supply in the domestic market,” he said. “So now you’re seeing in a lot of cases an exhausted industry.”

Tostenson said young people haven’t taken up the opportunity represented by the demand for skilled restaurant workers.

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