Many restaurants in the Orillia area are reeling from COVID-19-related labour shortages and have been forced to cut back on their hours as a result.
For example, Orillia's East Side Marios is now closed on Mondays and the popular Memorial Avenue restaurant closes early, at 8 p.m., on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays.
Hill’s Maple Leaf Restaurant recently decided to close at 3 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays while Theo’s Eatery has decided to close on Sundays and Mondays and are only open from 4 p.m. till 9 p.m. on Saturdays.
Downtown Orillia’s Brewery Bay is also struggling to staff their restaurant. For the first time in their almost 30-year existence, the restaurant has decided to close on Mondays.
“We decided that we needed to give our staff a little bit of a break because there has been constant change going back and forth with closing, re-opening, doing take-out, doing patio, and not one of us has had a chance to kind of gather ourselves and have a moment for ourselves,” said Brewery Bay manager Taylor Obee.
"It’s been a really stressful year-and-a-half, being short-staffed and having to train everybody and get them up to speed. There has been a lot on our plate, especially when you add all the extra COVID protocols and everything to it. It’s taken a toll on our staff, and we are exhausted.”
Obee says all staff members are maxed out, working 45 hours a week. When somebody calls in sick, they don’t have enough people on staff to cover the empty spot.
“We’ve tried to hire more people and we’ve received some great resumes and great applicants, but not all of them are used to the whole scene," Obee explained.
"So, it’s kind of hard being off from work for so long and then coming back to the industry, training them up, and throwing them into the mix of the new way we are doing things. It has been a stressor,” she said.
While staffing levels remain low, the demand for the restaurant has stayed the same or has maybe even increased on some days because of the vaccine passport system.
“I think more people are feeling like they are safer coming out now because they know that everybody inside is vaccinated. It gives them a little bit of a safe haven where they know they don’t have to worry about people not following protocol,” Obee said.
“This has been a busier fall for us. More people are excited to get out even though there are more restrictions.”
Over at State and Main in west Orillia, general manager Cindy Burnett says the restaurant is finally beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel and they are starting to recover from the staff shortages they faced all summer.
“At one point, we were not getting any applicants even though we were using all sorts of (channels) like Facebook, Indeed, and we had employees reaching out to people ... nothing was working,” she explained.
“We’ve had quite a few resumes come through recently and we are pretty decent now as we are starting to get employees in and trained.”
Burnett says the staff shortages impacted the restaurant's hours of operation and seating capacity as the kitchen staff struggled to keep up with the demand of the busy summer months.
“The staff we did have were totally overwhelmed and were putting in a lot of hours and days. We are very relieved that we don’t have to worry about that anymore, but now we are going into the slow part of the year,” she chuckled.
Burnett says State and Main has seen a decrease in sales since the implementation of the vaccine passport system.
“It is a combination of the time of year, but also I think the passport system has something to do with it for sure,” she said.
“We have heaters on the patio which helps because as temperatures get cooler the unvaccinated people are welcome to sit out there while the vaccinated coming into the restaurant feel pretty comfortable.”
Since the vaccine passport system was put into motion, State and Main has seen an increase in their take-out sales, which is a plus.
“It’s still early. I think a lot of people were just staying away during the first couple of weeks to see what was going to happen. People don’t know what to expect,” Burnett said.
“When people are coming in, they are asking how have our guests been? Have people been angry? So, I think that probably had something to do with the decrease in sales.”