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Staff shortage forces Guelph restaurant to close two days a week

Provincial restaurant association says seeing restaurants shut down due to a shortage of staff is uncommon
20210928SwissChalet
Owner of both Swiss Chalet locations in Guelph, Sheena Lalani, stands in the Edinburgh Road location in Guelph.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that both Swiss Chalet restaurants in Guelph were closed Sunday and Monday, but only the Edinburgh Road location is closing those days. The Woodlawn Road location remains open seven days a week.

For the first time since the pandemic began, Guelph's Swiss Chalet on Edinburgh had to shut down for two days this week due to a shortage of staff.

“It’s really, really bad,” said Sheena Lalani, who owns both Swiss Chalet franchises in Guelph, one on Edinburgh Road and the other on Woodlawn Road.

“For Swiss Chalet, that's a pretty big deal and it's something that was a last option for us. It was a very last option for us and we didn't want to do it,” said Lalani.

She said the staffing issues began in March and it wasn’t until two weeks ago where the restaurant decided to shut down on Mondays and Sundays. Currently, both restaurants are short nearly 30 per cent of the staff needed.

Lalani said when the fourth wave hit, about 20 staff members did not return to work.

“A lot of them were back of house and back of house cooks and line cooks and stuff. That is where we're seeing the biggest issue,” said Lalani.

“We're not getting anybody with experience because everybody is going from one job to another and it's wild.”

Tony Elenis, president and CEO of Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association, said worker shortages are seen across Ontario but not many are shutting down for full days in a week, which makes Swiss Chalet’s closure a pretty big deal. 

“There are many restaurants that are not able to open up to their full capacity. So they don't have all their seats open in all their sections in our restaurant,” said Elenis about the more common problem. 

He said it's common for managers to be filling in for staff by cooking and washing dishes. He also added that many baby boomers are rapidly exiting the workforce and ever since businesses began to open up after the long lockdown, many employees had already switched to other jobs while others were comfortable with CERB. 

Lalani said the restaurant originally tried to reduce a few hours on Sunday and Mondays to relieve strain on staff from working extra hours all week. 

“It was chaotic ... we were working pretty much open to close. We were all in positions where we felt we felt very bad for our guests though too because they were suffering,” said Lalani. 

“I've been in this industry for over 15 years and it's never been like this,” she said.

The work shortages during the pandemic reflect the instability of the hospitality environment at this time, said Lalani.

“A lot of people don't want to work within restaurants and stuff."

She said closing Sundays and Mondays means the restaurant loses about $9,000 in revenue per week and the shortage means it's not possible to stay open for takeout and delivery. 

Lalani said she’s not the only one experiencing this dilemma as many restaurants in Downtown Guelph had to alter their hours.

“Everyone's at their breaking point,” said “It was one of those things where as a franchisee I needed to look at the bigger picture and say ‘Is it is it really worth it for everybody to be under this amount of strain, just to keep the business going, seven days a week? Or is it worth maybe let's try for weeks of closures on Sundays and Mondays.’”

Lalani said the team has been posting job positions everywhere

“We're built for a seven day week,'' said Lalani. “We're open all the time right, like we close literally one day a year, which is on Christmas.”

Lalani said she anticipates the situation getting better once there is a reduction in government subsidy and hopes to open Sunday and Monday again in November. 

Eleni said he believes it will take time for the worker shortage issue to settle. 

“I truly believe we're in a hiring pandemic and I don't think it's just in Guelph,” said Lalani. “We’ve been in this hiring pandemic for at least 12 weeks.”



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Anam Khan

About the Author: Anam Khan

Anam Khan is a journalist who covers numerous beats in Guelph and Wellington County that include politics, crime, features, environment and social justice
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