Quebec restaurants reopen, but some former workers do not intend to return


Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

Posted Sunday, January 30, 2022 7:27 AM EST


Last updated Sunday January 30, 2022 7:02 PM EST

MONTREAL – Quebec restaurants will be allowed to reopen on Monday for the first time in a month, but some former workers say they won’t seek new jobs in the industry.

Milovan Danielou said he decided to start looking for a new job during the second closure of restaurant dining rooms in the province in the fall of 2020, when his then-employer, taco restaurant Grumman’ 78, has permanently closed its main location.

With dining halls closed and no tourists in town, there was little work to be done. “Everyone was struggling to find even part-time jobs,” he said in a recent interview.

Danielou, who now does data entry, said his new job was less interesting, but the pay of $30 an hour was better, and he was not worried about losing his job if the COVID-19 was getting worse.

“Nothing compares to the work at the restaurant, the rush, the drive, the energy, the team, the people you meet. Nothing compares to that,” he said. But that’s not enough to make him back down. “You have to pay your rent, you have to survive.”

The dining rooms of restaurants in Quebec were closed from December 31 as the number of COVID-19 cases in the province increased. Under the new rules, restaurants will be able to open Monday at 50% capacity and there will be limits on the number of people from different households who can share a table.

Liam Thomas, 32, said if he had decided to leave the industry last summer, when the restaurants were open, it was not a choice he would have made if he hadn’t already experienced two lockdowns.

“I was yelled at for the millionth time in my cooking career and just walked out and never came back,” Thomas, a former line cook, said in a recent interview. “It was precipitated by blockages and knowledge that could reoccur, and the instability of work.”

Thomas, who said he started working in restaurants at 18, now works as a transportation attendant at a Montreal hospital, helping patients get to x-rays and other appointments within the hospital. .

Although Thomas said he still misses the rush of the kitchen sometimes, his new job is less stressful, better paid and offers more vacation time.

“The issues that the pandemic has exposed have always been there for restaurant workers,” said Kaitlin Doucette of the Canadian Restaurant Workers Coalition, a group that advocates for better working conditions in the industry. She said workers have long lacked health benefits and paid sick leave, and the precarious nature of work in the industry can lead to abuse and sexual harassment.

One of the biggest challenges of the latest shutdown in Quebec, Doucette said in a recent interview, is that workers were only eligible for $300 a week in federal aid.

Montrealer Michèle Martel, who worked in bars for 25 years, said she started looking for a new job because it wasn’t enough to live on.

“I had no choice. With the amount of money they give us, my savings would have disappeared for the third time. It’s hard to save money, and when the closings come, the money background,” she said. “And it’s not just financial, I also need to work for my morale, to see people.

When bars and restaurants reopened for the second time in June 2021, Martel said she was confident it would last — most Quebecers were vaccinated and businesses had followed public health orders.

But this third closure made him fear that it could happen again. While Martel said she plans to seek employment as a bartender, she also plans to continue working at her new job at a seniors’ residence on a part-time basis.

Martin Juneau, the owner of Pastaga, a restaurant in Montreal’s Little Italy neighborhood, said he’s worried about finding staff for a reopening he says is more like a first-time opening.

“We had a lot of employees who eventually moved on, who wanted to go in a different direction, in a different industry,” he said in a recent interview.

While Juneau said he closed his dining hall before the provincial government ordered him to do so, he fears he will have to do it again. “We’re scared for next fall, and we’re scared that we don’t have the energy to get to next fall,” he said.

He was forced to close some other businesses, including a restaurant and wine shop, a corner grocery store and an ice cream shop, at the start of the pandemic, and he said they would not return. “We are the exact opposite of expansion,” Juneau said.

Benoit Dessureault, the owner of Chez Delmo in Old Montreal, said he was able to continue paying long-serving employees with the help of a food truck. Although some of his employees have been laid off, he said he found projects to hire them to work on during the shutdowns.

Still, he said the reopening means the restaurant – which had attracted lunchtime crowds of lawyers and businessmen – now plans to focus more on dining.

“The office towers are still empty, so we can’t keep the same business proposition as before,” Dessureault said in an interview.

Dessureault said he hopes customers will be more patient — and understanding — when they return to restaurants that still face strict public health rules.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on January 30, 2022.

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