KITCHENER -- Restaurants in Waterloo Region are still feeling the staffing crunch.

New hires are hard to come by in the hospitality sector, which is still trying to capitalize on the busy summer months.

Stephanie Soulis, at Little Mushroom Catering, has been looking forward to welcoming back guests since Ontario lifted its public health restrictions on indoor dining.

But finding employees has been a challenge.

“There a drought of workers,” she admits.

Soulis says she’s spent almost $1,000 on job listings last week, resulting in just four interviews.

“We’re finding it all across the country, in every area,” says James Rilett, the Central Canada vice-president for Restaurants Canada.

The industry group says the sector has been hit hard during the pandemic, citing the latest Statistics Canada job figures from June.

It shows Ontario was short 100,000 food service jobs, and there were 263,000 fewer food service workers than there was before the pandemic.

Furthermore, the industry has failed to regain one-third of the 800,000 jobs lost.

Rilett says avoiding another shutdown will do more for restaurants than a new subsidy.

“There’s not a lot we can do with subsidies to get people into the industry,” he says. “Once we’ve got people that will join our industry, then we can look at ways to keep them there.”

Little Mushroom Catering, meanwhile, will be launching its newest service Tuesday at Descendants Beer and Beverage Company in Kitchener.

However the staffing issues will mean reduced hours and fewer opportunities to recoup their pandemic losses.

“We’ve been turning away a ton of business,” says Soulis.

The business is a living-wage employer, which helps attract quality applicants. But Soulis says it’s still surprising how much harder it’s been to hire on the higher end of the pay scale.

“For the dishwashing position, we had 100 applicants. I posted for a sous-chef and we had zero applicants.”

Soulis is still holding out hope that she can fill five more vacant positions.

“We’re hiring,” she says. “If you know anyone!”