By Zachary Flynn
Fourth-semester culinary students at NAIT are seeing first-hand how professional restaurants across the province are dealing with the pandemic as Ernest’s offers online orders and limited in-person dining for patrons.
“We still get to be inside the kitchen, but the actual experience of a busy restaurant is not there,” said Ellias Steinhauer, a culinary student preparing to graduate this spring.
Throughout his culinary experience at NAIT, Steinhauer has also been working in professional restaurants in the city, but not all of his classmates have gained that extra time in the kitchen.
“There were some students in our class where this is their first time getting some sort of kitchen experience. We already know how to deal with the rush; we know how to deal with pressure times, but some don’t,” said Steinhauer.
Not only has Ernest’s been forced to reduce its dining room capacity to comply with provincial regulations, but the overall demand for in-person dining has drastically fallen.
Mitch McCaskill, the Interim Dining Room Manager at Ernest’s, said that lunch orders, for example, have dropped to roughly 35 from the 130 plates they used to serve pre-pandemic.
“You could tell people were a little bit more cautious; even as they saw someone walking by their table, they would kind of shy away and cover their mouth,” said McCaskill.
“You kind of noticed people and that their body language is that they don’t want to get shut down again or have restaurants shut down. I think people are outgoing social species that want to go and share time with other people, so lockdowns aren’t fun.”
The team at Ernest’s has been actively working to find ways to bring people back to campus to dine or, at the very least, pick up an order. One of the primary changes has come to Ernest’s lunch offerings.
“We didn’t even have [Tiffin at Ernest’s] before the lockdowns. It was a buffet on Fridays,” said McCaskill.
On top of the new lunchtime menu, the restaurant also takes online orders for cocktail kits, high tea platters, charcuterie takeaways, as well as lunch and dinner menu items. These online orders have allowed the restaurant, like others, to expand beyond its seating capacity and attract more business.
For Steinhauer, he’s happy he made the decision to work through the pandemic and keep committed to his studies – studies that will continue in the fall after he graduates from his current program and moves onto the professional meat cutting and merchandising program.