Despite being a larger company, Joseph Richard Group with several restaurants in Langley, hasn’t been immune to the impact of COVID-19. (Search + Rescue Marketing Agency)

Hospitality workers in Langley hit hard by COVID-19

Restaurant and hotel industries rely on government aid to keep staff on payroll

It may be no surprise that COVID-19 has impacted virtually every industry on the planet, many negatively, including the hospitality industry right here in Langley – but what may be of surprise is how the latest numbers from the government indicate an alarming number of establishments may never bounce back.

More than 60 per cent of Canada’s restaurants risk having to close their doors permanently by November, according to government data provided by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

It’s a challenge but local restaurant owners are managing, said Colleen Clark, CEO of the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce.

“Support them as much as you can now because if you don’t they won’t be here,” she said about the local establishments.

Aaron Turkstra, who operates Annora Restaurant in Langley City, said sales have decreased over 50 per cent since the start of the pandemic at their shop.

“I have heard from other restaurant owners, sales are down for them as some people are still afraid to dine out,” he said. “It has been hard on catering too as there can be no groups over 50. I have heard many events were cancelled and postponed.”

After the provincial health officials re-introduced dine-in service restaurants were able to welcome back guests, but things haven’t returned to normal.

The larger restaurants have been able to better navigate the new COVID-19 protocols having more indoor dining space for guests, Clark said. But is it the small “mom and pop” spaces that are struggling.

“People still aren’t coming into sit as much as they (restaurant owners) would like, they’re finding [customers are] still doing a lot of takeout,” she relayed.

Ryan Moreno, CEO of Joseph Richard Group (JRG), who operates restaurants in the Township called the statistics about the industry “scary.”

“Some pretty crazy statistics about some of the smaller restaurants and just the industry in general, how many may close… so it’s pretty scary and sad at the same time,” he said.

Despite being a larger operation JRG hasn’t been immune to tumult caused by COVID-19.

“It was probably one of the worst days of my career on the 16th of March, where we had to essentially shut the company down… we have over 1,000 employees so you’re laying off a lot of people,” Moreno recalled.

JRG was prepared to re-hire staff after the government introduced programs to support businesses, but the company was surprised with the response.

“We tried to do that,” said Moreno.

But some were “scared and not feeling comfortable to come back to work,” while others collecting the $2,000 Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) decided to “enjoy summer,” Moreno explained.

“When you go from having to let everybody go, and then we were super excited to bring people back and not everybody wanted to come back – ‘We’re like what?’” he recalled.

“In a lot of ways [CERB] helped a lot of people… a lot of people needed it,” Moreno noted that many have families to look after.

Clark believes CERB has also played a role in the retail and service industry where some have found it challenging to fill full-time work in the community, noting that parents are also waiting to see how school will look this year.

However, hotel workers have been fighting to return to work.

On Wednesday, hotel workers on strike outside the constituency office of Tourism Minister Lisa Beare in Maple Ridge were expected to end their demonstration after a response on Monday from Labour Minister Harry Bains.

Unite Here Local 40 has been pushing for government to protect 50,000 hotel jobs across the province, as some businesses are firing long-term staff, they said.

Bains committed to support workers by getting them back to work.

But Moreno said the future of the industry remains unclear.

“That’s anybody’s best guess,” he said.


@JotiGrewal_
joti.grewal@blackpress.ca

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