'We’re going to need extra hands': Local restaurants prepare for patio season

Hiring is underway at local restaurants for what's expected to be a busy summer of outdoor dining, as Ontario inches closer to phase one of its reopening plan that would allow patios to operate.

On Friday afternoon, empty patios line King Street in Kitchener. In any normal year, the area would be bustling with outdoor diners.

“It's a ghost town,” said Shaina Schlegel, manager at Bobby O’Brien’s. “This is so crazy, we’re used to having lots of people on our patio.”

However, behind the scenes, local restaurants are picking up steam. Many are hiring and rehiring staff for what’s expected to be a busy summer.

During the shutdown, Bobby O’Brien’s also gave its patio a facelift, getting rid of the volleyball court in favour of 15 new patio tables.

“We want this to be a safe experience for everyone, an enjoyable experience. We're so excited to have people back out here,” said Schlegel.

On Tuesday, Health Minister Christine Elliott said she understands that people are anxious to move into Step 1 and they are waiting for a decision on whether that timeline can be pushed up by a few days.

Currently, that phase of the reopening is set to happen on June 14. It would allow outdoor dining with up to four people per table and other restrictions, although it’s unclear if patio capacity limits will be set.

“Restaurant owners, operators are anxious to get going again and our trends are heading in the right direction,” said Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, medical officer of health for Waterloo Region.

Industry professionals know one thing is for certain, once they get the green light it will be all hands on deck.

“With what we experienced last summer, we're going to need extra summer hands. Not just our usual staff,” explained Red House general manager Ainsley Szvitak.

Red House in Uptown Waterloo plans to hire up to 20 new employees, although the last lockdown has demonstrated the futility of planning.

“We were open for one week, then you have to pivot again. So, I think we're proceeding with a little bit more caution this time, but still trying to be prepared as possible for a busy summer,” added Szvitak.