'Omicron has really wreaked havoc on the industry': N.S. restaurants struggling as pandemic lingers on

As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches into its second year and the Omicron wave continues to impact Nova Scotia, things are quiet at many restaurants across the province.

La Cucina Café Pizzeria and Spaghetti House in Dartmouth, N.S., is among them.

"We find generally if the case count is high, that business tends to be slower at those times,” said Jane Muir, owner of La Cucina.

The latest wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the most difficult for some in the restaurant industry.

"Omicron has really wreaked havoc on the industry,” said Ardon Mofford, owner of Governor’s Pub and Eatery in Sydney, N.S.

"We knew that Christmas parties and some receptions would get cancelled, some would get downsized but still operate, but literally people cancelled even ordinary reservations for two people, four people, six people. That was not expected, that was not in the cards,” said Gordon Stewart, the executive director of the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia.

“That was extremely damaging to the industry."

Staffing shortages have been an ongoing issue in the food and beverage industry during the pandemic.

"Since COVID hit, I think that a lot of the food and beverage staff have decided to not return to the industry after it reopened after the first time that we were all closed down,” said Liz Ingram-Chambers, owner of Le Bistro by Liz in Halifax.

The Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia estimates 7,000 to 8,000 people have left the industry since the pandemic started.

"Long range it will be one of our major problems we're going to have to deal with as we come out of COVID, is still finding the employee base. We have an enormous number leaving,” said Stewart.

Since business is slow now, many restaurants say they have enough staff to make things work, but there is concern for the future.

"We do have enough staff for the amount of business that we have but once things start to pick up and go back to normal, we will definitely be short-staffed again,” said Muir.

"Moving forward, when we get busy in the summer, when cruise ships come back, we're going to be in rough shape,” said Mofford.

Some restaurant owners say they’ve been having trouble hiring employees.

"This past summer I tried to hire in all positions, which traditionally have easy been to fill -- bartenders, food servers, bussers etc. -- and we received three applications, which I would usually get 100 or more and be able to have a choice or a selection to go through. There's nobody out there,” said Mofford.

"I do try all the different avenues. I use the job bank, Facebook, Kijiji, and I just don't really seem to get resumes at all,” said Muir.

Ingram-Chambers would like to see government reassure people that things are getting better.

"It's all about the reassurance to the public that they should get back out there and live their life. And yes, everybody still has to be careful, but you can't sit in the house for more than two years."

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