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labour shortage in the hospitality biz


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A few restaurants over here have limited their hours, claiming a labour shortage. Some have closed for the dinner hour at least one night a week and another closed for dinner period.

I have heard numerous stories over the last week from restaurateurs desperate for good employees.

Same thing going on in Vancouver? Where did the employees go?

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May or may not be related to this labour shortage issue:

I have a distant relative that worked as a line cook at places like C and Rugby, and he said that the majority of kitchen staff get paid minimum wage. This was even after going to cooking school and stuff. I got the impression that the reason was that if the cook didn't like it, they could leave and there would be a lineup of 20 people waiting to take his place. Is this accurate? Is it even true? He told me this at least a couple years ago, so maybe the tide has shifted...

album of the moment: Kelley Polar - I Need You To Hold On While The Sky Is Falling - 2008
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May or may not be related to this labour shortage issue:

I have a distant relative that worked as a line cook at places like C and Rugby, and he said that the majority of kitchen staff get paid minimum wage. This was even after going to cooking school and stuff. I got the impression that the reason was that if the cook didn't like it, they could leave and there would be a lineup of 20 people waiting to take his place. Is this accurate? Is it even true? He told me this at least a couple years ago, so maybe the tide has shifted...

Quien sabe! It's minimum wage in the retail sector as well.

What contributes to the strangeness here is that a few of these restaurants are actually putting a message that are closed due to a labour shortage on their answering machines.

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Wow, Shelora. I find it difficult to believe! It's always been my experience that Victoria has too many servers and not enough restaurants. Is this exclusively a kitchen issue? Is the deficit only at the executive level? I know plenty of NCO and line cook types always looking for work over there, but they're all stoned lifers (the "baked hairnet brigade" we used to call them) and hardly worthy of recommendation. :biggrin:

Perhaps Matt and Mark can fill us out from the inside...

Edited by Andrew Morrison (log)

Andrew Morrison

Food Columnist | The Westender

Editor & Publisher | Scout Magazine

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I know plenty of NCO and line cook types always looking for work over there, but they're all stoned lifers (the "baked hairnet brigade" we used to call them) and hardly worthy of recommendation.  :biggrin:

you keep interesting company :laugh:

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I have heard from a couple who work in the industry that they will be moving to Calgary because they can get better pay, and the cost of living is lower. Ofcourse as long as we pay our kitchen staff poorly, we will not be encouraging others to start, or continue in that trade. Some are in to it for the passion, and many are trying to make a buck. Many have to work double shifts to make a decent living.

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I have to agree with Shelora, I've had an incredibly hard time staffing this year, it seems that for every one cook hired 3 leave, if we weren't a resort I'm sure we would be looking at closing a couple days a week.

I think a lot of the problem comes from the fact that a lot of the young cooks now a days have stars in their eyes and have heard of the $15 - 18 dollar an hour jobs in Vancouver and are heading straight for them. Unfortunetly the same people that are telling them about these high paying cooks job aren't telling them that for every $15 an hour job there are dozen $9 an hour jobs.

I pay my staff a decent wage ($2.00 more than most of the local places), is it what I used to pay them when I worked for Fairmont? hardly, but then again I don't charge $21 for a clubhouse sandwich.

When I first moved to the Island and started looking at the job market I couldn't believe the what the average cooks wage was, every employer I would talk to would go on about how much cheaper it is to live here and how you don't need to make as much, I called BS on more than one occasion. Gas is $1.10 a litre, rents are comparable to the LM, groceries cost as much if not more. Its a perception that needs to change if the industry is going to grow here.

Colin

Colin Dunn

Burnt Out Exec Chef

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I have heard from a couple who work in the industry that they will be moving to Calgary because they can get better pay, and the cost of living is lower.  Ofcourse as long as we pay our kitchen staff poorly, we will not be encouraging others to start, or continue in that trade.  Some are in to it for the passion, and many are trying to make a buck.  Many have to work double shifts to make a decent living.

There is one server in particular who works at the Rosemeade, Temple, and Cafe Brio (I think that's right - Shelora?) in order to get by. I had to do the same during my adolescent angst years, washing dishes and doing prep in the day while bussing tables at night. The seasonality of work is the real killer. The city rocks tourists from May to September, but then it must rely largely on locals in the winter. I think the doldrums are getting better, but then again it's been a few years since I took a paycheck across the Strait, and most of the staff I knew growing up have moved to Vancouver.

Andrew Morrison

Food Columnist | The Westender

Editor & Publisher | Scout Magazine

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I have to agree with Shelora, I've had an incredibly hard time staffing this year, it seems that for every one cook hired 3 leave, if we weren't a resort I'm sure we would be looking at closing a couple days a week.

I think a lot of the problem comes from the fact that a lot of the young cooks now a days have stars in their eyes and have heard of the $15 - 18 dollar an hour jobs in Vancouver and are heading straight for them. Unfortunetly the same people that are telling them about these high paying cooks job aren't telling them that for every $15 an hour job there are dozen $9 an hour jobs.

I pay my staff a decent wage ($2.00 more than most of the local places), is it what I used to pay them when I worked for Fairmont? hardly, but then again I don't charge $21 for a clubhouse sandwich.

When I first moved to the Island and started looking at the job market I couldn't believe the what the average cooks wage was, every employer I would talk to would go on about how much cheaper it is to live here and how you don't need to make as much, I called BS on more than one occasion. Gas is $1.10 a litre, rents are comparable to the LM, groceries cost as much if not more. Its a perception that needs to change if the industry is going to grow here.

Colin

Thanks for your perspective Colin. Personally, I would like to know what places in Vancouver could possibly be paying those kinds of wages. Andrew? Should we be packing our bags?

Edited by shelora (log)
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I have heard from a couple who work in the industry that they will be moving to Calgary because they can get better pay, and the cost of living is lower.  Ofcourse as long as we pay our kitchen staff poorly, we will not be encouraging others to start, or continue in that trade.  Some are in to it for the passion, and many are trying to make a buck.  Many have to work double shifts to make a decent living.

There is one server in particular who works at the Rosemeade, Temple, and Cafe Brio (I think that's right - Shelora?) in order to get by. I had to do the same during my adolescent angst years, washing dishes and doing prep in the day while bussing tables at night. The seasonality of work is the real killer. The city rocks tourists from May to September, but then it must rely largely on locals in the winter. I think the doldrums are getting better, but then again it's been a few years since I took a paycheck across the Strait, and most of the staff I knew growing up have moved to Vancouver.

I think I know who and what you mean, but those places you've mentioned aren't particularly seasonal, nor are the ones claiming a labour shortage. This adds to the mystery.

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$18 per hour for a line cook might be an urban myth unless some eG member chef feels like sharing. I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but I think $12 to $15 is more accurate (plus a nibble of the house tips).

It hasn't exactly been a walk in the park for Vancouver kitchens either. Just recently, an obscene number of tourism industry job vacancies (over 10,000) were forecasted by 2015. In conversations with several chefs last month (for a related story), I was told the pinch is already being felt (especially in the area of experienced line cooks).

Other than the promise of blood, sweat, fear and loathing, what other incentives might attract the numbers needed to begin the triage, both on the Island and the LM? Both are exciting places to work right now, but is that enough when the smell of oil money wafts down seductively from over the hills and far away?

Edited by Andrew Morrison (log)

Andrew Morrison

Food Columnist | The Westender

Editor & Publisher | Scout Magazine

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Sean tells me that the word on the street is that it "is impossible to find kitchen staff" right now. We both think it is a wage issue.

I can wash dishes for minimum wage, be a line cook for $12-15 an hour or I can go sweep up nails at a construction site for $18/hr.

I think the number of constrstuction sites in Victoria has surpassed the number of restaurants.

-Marc

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Andrew, the big downtown hotels Pan, Waterfront, H. Van ect. pay 1st cooks (journeymen) around $17 -18 an hour. I've been away from the Waterfront for 2 years now and that was what we were paying at that time. The $12 - 15 is definetly closer to the norm for stand alone locations.

Average wage in Nanaimo for cooks is around the $9.00 mark (did a recent wage survey)

One thing I have seen more of this year is guys coming in who have spent the last couple of years in constuction and are now looking for something else, little or no experience, basically looking for something to pay rent until the next construction boom up here.

The culinary program at Malaspina is putting a lot of cooks through right now but one has to wonder where they are all going.

Colin

Edited by ColinD (log)

Colin Dunn

Burnt Out Exec Chef

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...err... sorry just popping in, on a discussion. I have worked all over the USA for the last ten years and for the last 5 years I have noticed a definite change in labor, not only the lack of labor but the lack of quality labor. I have a friend at who is a Sous Chef at Ducasse, in NYC, and I have a good friend who works for Laurant Gras in NYC, both of them are struggling to find cooks. Most cooks are told in Culinary Schools now that they will be stars in two years, also that they are going to make a starting rate of 15-18 dollars an hour. Plus none of these younger kids want to work as hard. I have also heard from my chef who is French they are having a hard time filling positions. I remember when I was younger it was almost impossible to stag. in Europe, now it has become much easier. The good cooks are cooking abroad.

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When I started in Vancouver, I made $10 an hour and worked a double shift, 6 days a week. That was in 96-97. I went on to a hotel in downtown where I stayed at for 2 years, I think I left at $16 an hour and I was a second cook.

Here in Saskatoon, the average wage here is $8 to $9 an hour. I was a sous chef at a nice restaurant and was making $2000 a month before tax with a 60 hour week.

Finding decent kitchen staff is a probelm here as well. Even though we do not have as many good restaurants there is still a shortage of people who are motivated enough to work in the industry. The cooking program here has it's own probelm of putting out lots of cooks but with a subpar education. That also includes the apprenticeship program.

ColinD, I know where at least one of the Malaspina grads is. He is the pastry chef at the Delta Bessbourgh here in Saskatoon.

Dan Walker

Chef/Owner

Weczeria Restaurant

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Even though we do not have as many good restaurants there is still a shortage of people who are motivated enough to work in the industry.

I think this is the major issue. How does the industry make working the line more attractive? Is raising the wage the only solution?

Andrew Morrison

Food Columnist | The Westender

Editor & Publisher | Scout Magazine

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Even though we do not have as many good restaurants there is still a shortage of people who are motivated enough to work in the industry.

I think this is the major issue. How does the industry make working the line more attractive? Is raising the wage the only solution?

I agree, Andrew, that this is the major issue. The simple solution is to charge $20 for that club house (and yes, for $18/hr that cook better make those fries really good) and raise the pay rates of your core team. The more realistic answer would be to skim even more off of the FOH to offset the poor wages of the BOH. hahaha ....

Line cooking is a young man's game. The stamina and strength required to do the job consistently well tends to fade as people enter their 30's. Thus, they leave after they realize that after two decades of proving their worth, their employer decides they are not worth any more than they are already getting. Your skillset and knowledge base should be constantly growing, as you are constantly pushing yourself to improve, but the pay that should come along with that professional growth just sometimes "isn't in the budget". Does any other trades sector tolerate this rational? Not to my knowledge.

This contributes to a so-called labour shortage. The good cooks are always taken. They may move around a bit, following a chef, taking 50 cents and hour more, 'better' restaurant, or whatever, but they are always employed. The professional journeyman cook is what is in demand in Victoria. The problem is, by the time you are good enough to earn an above average wage, you may already be burned out from years of eating rice and pasta on your days off and decide to pursue something else entirely. There are few great line cooks over the age of 30 who aren't totally resentful, bitter and angry. The rest of this group are truly devoted, but just can't seem to take the plunge into a senior leadership role (this is the group I'm in, I think. :raz: )

That being said, in my marketplace money can never be the motivating factor. If you do not love to cook and love the rush, quit while you're ahead and learn computers or plumbing. It's not hard. The underlying issue here is that people are cheap. Consumers always want more for less. $1.10/l for gas? Hell no!! How much is that bottle of water? $1.50/l? No problem. It's worth it. Did you know that college educated professionals in the childcare sector in Victoria (and the rest of BC) are *lucky* to be paid $1.50/hr for each kid? WTF?? What is the matter with people. Here, raise my kid. For $10/day. (This is a personal beef with me, don't worry. It's going to get much, much worse with the Conservatives in power.)

In closing, I am grateful that my wife has gone back to school to earn her CGA designation, because that will afford me the luxury of doing what I love, cook, and still buy my children the things they need. And it will afford my family the luxury of knowing that on Daddy's days off, we will eat well. This is worth so, so much to us. So much, in fact, that I will do it all for no money at all.

-- Matt.

ps, I hope someone reads this before it gets nuked. :laugh:

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.....is a young man's game. The stamina and strength required to do the job consistently well tends to fade as people enter their 30's

ps, I hope someone reads this before it gets nuked.   :laugh:

are we talking about the Canuck's? :laugh::biggrin:

Does any other trades sector tolerate this rational? Not to my knowledge.

No, but unfortunately a certain trade sector is dominating the interest of many concerned in B.C., and all others are getting short shrift. Surprised to see that some companies that would never have to advertise for staff are, and some were even advertising in publications that they have absolutely never in the past done so in, and I'm quite sure that it's because the people that they'd normally expect to be queing in a huge line up for an application (which happened in the past years), have found employment in the other trade sector, at higher wages. God forbid what's going to happen to all those enticed by those T.V. ads for culinary education, et al, in another few years. I am interested to see what those in the know, or those who are in control have to say about what they expect to see as of March 2010, in B.C., not just the south-west but overall. :shock::unsure:

Edited by ~cayenne~ (log)

"If cookin' with tabasco makes me white trash, I don't wanna be recycled."

courtesy of jsolomon

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I left a professional job to enter the world of baking. I had a few stints in the kitchen as well during my pastry study. I left because the cashiers and waiters were earning more than what I was making. Anyone who is familiar with what goes on in the kitchen knows the sweat that we put into our job. I like hard work but I felt it was bordering on being taken advantage of by the managers/owners and other "slack" employees. And this was working for several places in a year's time.

Overall, I think kitchen help is easily taken for granted or forgotten because we work behind the scene. I now enjoy using my skills on my own time because it is appreciated and I'm not even paid for it.

To say that if you have true passion for the job and can take the heat in the kitchen is one thing. To not be appreciated is another.

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This is an interesting topic.

I teach at Malaspina (though not in the culinary program), and I have heard that the kids coming in to that program seem to have more "stars in their eyes" about being the next Jamie Oliver or Rob Feenie. However, I do know that the cooking faculty try very hard to make the students aware of what is realistic in terms of their job prospects. I mean , they are much more likely to get a job at a senior citizen's home making meatloaf for 500 or to be a line cook somewhere. The faculty try to impress upon the students that only a very few who work VERY hard will get to be top flight chefs at a resort or a top restaurant.

But, the students are young and perhaps don't get the message?

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I think this is a really interesting topic and its good that someone has acknoiqledged this in the industry. Having just leaving culinary school (i decided not to finish the whole program, just the certificate) i found that there are alot of people who go to school thinking that IMHO that it is not necessarily what cooking school you go to but it is what you put into the school and your education that matters. Which also translates into how one might work in a kitchen. And also, one must also be realistic about the circumstances of the kitchen and the industry itself and really know what you want from it. If you want to make a lot of money then this industry is not for you (there are exceptions). It is true that people don't work as hard as they used to and it's because people expect things to be brought to them. I have seen people work in kitchens and not a lot of people are willing to work REALLY HARD because they feel that they don't need to because they don't get paid enough to work really hard, but this is what is wrong, if you are passionate enough about something then money should come second.

I myself like to work the stand alone restaurants, its just a personal preference, and i dont mind being paid next to nothing as long as i LEARN and keep stimulated while i am doing it. People say they have a passion for the industry but do alot of those people really understand what it means?

It is true that people are going over seas to find work and stage now because that is where you can learn the most and get what you cannot necessarily get in Vancouver. I myself will be travelling to the south of France early june because i have stage set up there and i will be staying there for 3 months, then travelling for another 3 months. I won't be paid, except they are providing me with room and board. So it is quite an investment but to reinforce what I said it is more than just money its the experience and the education and learning that counts for me. Just wanted to add a young cooks perspective into the conversation. :raz:

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I myself will be travelling to the south of France early june because i have stage set up there and i will be staying there for 3 months, then travelling for another 3 months. I won't be paid, except they are providing me with room and board.

Good for you.

I'm sure I'm not alone in hoping that you come back!

Perhaps a course on passion versus financial reality should be required learning for all in our culinary school. It's kind of like the Army - the pay sucks and you have to really love it to tolerate it.

Edited by Andrew Morrison (log)

Andrew Morrison

Food Columnist | The Westender

Editor & Publisher | Scout Magazine

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Perhaps a course on passion versus financial reality should be required learning for all in our culinary school. It's kind of like the Army - the pay sucks and you have to really love it to tolerate it.

Actually, the pay in the Army does not suck at all. A cook in the army (and you'd actually get trained for free) would start as a buck private at $2400 a month. After about 4 years, assuming you were showing promise and got promoted to corporal, you'd be making twice that much. That's $48K per year. With 5 weeks vacation, and a pretty sweet pension to boot. Granted, you don't get to work too often with foie gras and the tuna & cheese you make is actually just tuna & cheese. :raz:

Edited by Jeffy Boy (log)
I know a man who gave up smoking, drinking, sex, and rich food. He was healthy right up to the day he killed himself. - Johnny Carson
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