Parking downtown Kelowna. (City of Kelowna)

‘Lots of unknowns’: Okanagan restaurant workers stressed as COVID-19 causes layoffs

Bars and restaurants throughout the Okanagan are closing as recommended by B.C. government

Okanagan restaurant workers have been hit hard with layoffs as business closures spread into the food and beverage industry.

On March 17, many restaurants informed hourly staff that they would be closing for at least two weeks while the province and municipalities battle the spread of COVID-19.

“I think I saw it coming,” said one server working with a main restaurant franchise in Kelowna.

“They’re taking care of us, better than some other places I’m told, which put my mind at ease. I still don’t know what I’m going to do, am I going to have a job in two weeks? There are EI options but I could stand to lose nearly 75 per cent of my income.”

Most servers and bartenders rely on customer tips for their main source of income because waiting staff earn a minimum wage of $12.70, a dollar less than B.C.’s overall minimum wage of $13.85 an hour.

While multiple restaurants have given their service staff an extra week of pay (based on an average of their last eight weeks worked), the uncertainty of when they may return to work is the hardest part.

“There’s lots of unknowns and that’s the stressful part.”

READ MORE: B.C. declares state of emergency, recalling legislature for COVID-19

READ MORE: Hundreds of Big White employees lose jobs due to COVID-19

With gyms, restaurants, schools, recreational facilities and no job to report to, a lot of restaurant workers and other affected people are feeling anxious about their future.

“I’m trying to keep a level head,” said Chris Loubardeas, a restaurant worker who’s all but self-isolated.

“Getting outside, reading and catching up on sleep and trying not to worry myself about this. There’s two week radio silence from work, but I expect more information after that.

“I’m lucky to have savings and support but if it’s longer than two weeks, its going to cause a lot more problems for a lot of restaurant workers.”

While many resturants have shut their doors, others are still offering take out or delivery, which has been allowed by the province.

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