“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” (‘The more things change, the more they stay the same.’) — Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr
Take a look back through past issues of F&H, and it quickly becomes clear that, despite the passage of time, some things never change. Take the topic of labour, for example. As long as restaurants have existed in Canada, operators have typically viewed staffing as their biggest challenge (read: headache). Unlike in Europe, where service has always been considered an honourable profession, and even a vocation, the opposite rings true in North America. Sure, thousands of Canadians enter the foodservice industry, but, for many, it’s a pit stop on the way to something else. And, whether we point the finger at low wages forced by economic necessity, a transient workforce or serious shortages, the reality is clear: attracting and retaining labour continues to be problematic.
Still, if finding and keeping labour is such a big headache, and if the same problem exists today that has existed for the past 50 years, perhaps it’s time to take a different approach to solving the problem. Granted, the industry has made great strides in this regard. Today, more than ever, an increasing number of young Canadians are enrolling in hospitality programs, many captivated by the allure and passion of becoming chefs. A good number of Canadians are also perfectly happy to be servers and bartenders because of the flexibility in scheduling and the attractive tips. And, many teenage workers, who look to the foodservice industry as a place where they can earn money while attending school, are perfectly content to work in the quick-service industry.
To be fair, many operators have worked diligently to improve their salary packages, especially the bigger chains and successful independents, which appreciate that good working conditions and a variety of perks, namely health benefits, make for happier, more productive employees. But, for every good operator who truly cares about his staff, countless others are guilty of offering low pay, promoting deplorable working conditions and taking advantage of their staff. It may be hard to believe this reality in 21st-century Canada, but low pay and unattractive work conditions still plague the industry. And, as labour challenges persist (see p. 26) and today’s millennials become more vocal and less malleable about what they’re willing to accept in the workforce, the problem will only intensify. In fact, this month’s story titled “Changing of the Guard” (see p. 33) cites a recent University of Guelph survey that shows a growing number of hospitality graduates are disappointed in the state of industry and leaving it.
It begs two questions: why is this the case, and what are you going to do about it? If the industry really wants to solve this age-old conundrum and promote a hospitable work environment governed by employers who truly care about their employees, it’s going to require a huge paradigm shift. It’s insane to think anything less will work. After all, as Albert Einstein is reputed to have once pointed out, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”