“I want to speak to a white man”

When we have a pizza delivered or sit down at a neighborhood restaurant for a poutine, we don’t realize the labor-intensive challenges behind our food. It ranges from being unable to find employees for $25 an hour to dealing with customers who don’t like exotic accents.

Posted at 6:30am

“We built our business models on the idea that there would always be an plentiful and inexpensive workforce willing to bend over backwards to meet our needs. But when COVID and my generation came up with their own demands, that idea was shattered. »

Surely you do not know the author of these words. He’s not famous. He doesn’t run a big, well-known company. No need to google.

This observation comes from Matice Langevin, a young man of 26 who owns a restaurant in Quebec. A pizzeria that also serves burgers and poutine. Forty places. deliveries. Takeout orders. You know what I mean.


PHOTO PASCAL RATTHÉ, SPECIAL COLLABORATION

Matice Langevin

Kyran-Ô pizza has been around for over 40 years. Matice bought it from her parents four years ago. Like many children of restaurateurs, he got his hands dirty as a teenager before studying restaurant management years later. It shows how much he loves the property.

Matice wrote to me after reading my column about the difficulties encountered by an owner of three Tim Hortons in the Laurentians. Lack of staff slows down the service and some customers cannot tolerate it. They spit in the employees’ faces and fight each other. Impatient people force the police to intervene. All for a coffee. Does it surprise you that teenagers desert?

“Ironically, customers are emphasizing the lack of labor through their behavior and unreasonable expectations,” regrets Matice. A campaign to raise awareness of respect for customer service representatives would not be a luxury. A few years ago this idea would have been far-fetched, but not anymore.

Matice Langevin speaks with full knowledge of the facts.

The young restaurateur hired a teenager of Congolese origin to take orders over the phone. A good employee “still fast”. He had a slight accent.

“It often happened that customers would say, ‘I want to speak to a white man. I want to speak to a Quebecer.” It really scared us that he was going to start being insulted. On the phone, the filter has the edge. »

A waitress of Tunisian origin also worked for the family pizzeria for a while. She, too, had a little accent from elsewhere. “I still have clients telling me about ‘the veil’ that wasn’t fast,” says Matice, specifying that his ex-employee never even wore the veil. He has already refused to serve customers, whom he describes as “xenophobic”, given the inappropriate comments he has heard.

This blatant lack of understanding towards customers is depressing and I understand the job seekers who don’t want to go into the catering industry.

Matice Langevin

Rest assured, none of them changed jobs because of the insults. But do we need “zero tolerance” posters for verbal abuse like in hospitals?

Kyran-Ô-Pizza has been looking for a weekend waitress for two years. So Matice’s mother does the work, five or six days a week. His father and sister also work there. The restaurant is closed on Mondays.

Matice, which has already raised its prices sharply due to food inflation, is aware that it doesn’t offer “fantastic” salaries. He would rather pay his future waitress, but that would force him to raise the kitchen wages to be fair.

“If I pay everyone $18 an hour, I get a 2% or 3% profit margin just looking at my Excel file. At 2 or 3% I don’t find it interesting for the energy you put into a restaurant. I think I’ll put my money in a government bond. I’ll put in the same mediocre performance, but at least I’ll have my weekends and my sanity intact. »

When tipped, a waitress at her restaurant can expect $25 or $26 an hour. “But young people my age get hives if they work weekends,” says Matice … who is young himself.

Although he sometimes bemoans the attitude of his generation, he acknowledges that working conditions in his area have been neglected. Restaurant kitchens, for example, are rarely spacious. We tend to focus on the dining room when it comes to cost-effectiveness.

“Sometimes there are four, five or six of us in a tiny kitchen. We kick each other, we scream, it’s hot. Fryers are cooking next door. My job has aged a lot, I think. At Desjardins you can answer the phone from home with air conditioning for the same salary. Yes, I don’t think my generation works hard enough, but I look at how the workforce is treated in my industry and I tell myself we’ve lagged behind a bit. »

Matice thinks about solutions. He went to Japan, a country struggling with an aging population and a labor shortage. It gave him ideas because technology is used there to relieve waitresses in restaurants. He plans to provide customers with iPads so they can place their own orders.

“We came to review the way we work,” pleads the man who, with support from Investissement Québec, hopes to shift towards automating restaurant operations to optimize productivity.

While waiting to find a robot that can put pepperoni on the pizza, Matice is in the kitchen. evenings and weekends.

Learn more

  • 30 230
    Restaurant job vacancies (including 17,045 waiter or waitress jobs) in the fourth quarter of 2021

    Source: Statistics Canada

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