A proposal to add a massive 616-seat bowling alley, restaurant and games facility to the village has stirred up a wide variety of reactions from both the public and local business community in recent weeks.
There are several worthwhile arguments one could make against National Beerhall's application to fill the long vacant former AlpenRock space in the midst of Whistler's ongoing housing and staffing shortage. But one point that has been consistently brought up by the local bar and restaurant operators who have voiced their opposition to the proposal doesn't, at least in my humble estimation, hold water: that the business would somehow be "stealing" employees from a limited staffing pool of food and beverage workers. (This comes despite National Beerhall's claims that it will bring in however many employees it needs from the 18 venues the company operates in the Calgary area.)
Let's face it: There's no denying that the restaurant business is a grind, no matter where you are. But that goes double for Whistler, where the seasonality and lack of affordable housing has kept servers, line cooks and bartenders away from the resort in droves the last few years. Small-business owners face enough of an uphill climb as it is without having to contend with these external forces largely beyond their control. But to suggest that a bowling alley—or any new business, for that matter—is going to come in and pluck staff right from under an employer's nose is flawed at best, and self-serving at worst.
A workforce is not made up of mindless drones blindly loyal to whoever cuts their cheques. Whistler, perhaps more than your average community, is made up of discerning employees who have run the cost-benefit analysis of living here, in much the same way an entrepreneur decides whether their new potential venture is worth the risk. So, dear employer, if you think your staff is going to jump ship just because a shiny new business moved in down the street, well, I'd argue that says more about your workplace than it does the competition's.
Very few food-service workers are in Whistler to pursue a career. That presents its own challenges to employers, but it also allows businesses added flexibility with how they attract and retain their staff. A decent wage will always be the No. 1 driver, but the average Whistler worker is going to place much more value on things like a flexible schedule, an easygoing work environment, and, unsurprisingly, subsidized housing—all identified as the top perks employees are looking for in the Whistler Chamber of Commerce's Employee Recruitment and Retention strategy—than the typical server or chef in other communities.
Sure, it's true that we are currently in an employee's market. Businesses being in the desperate staffing position they are means that workers essentially have the pick of the litter when it comes to jobs. But can you knock the overworked, underpaid Whistler worker bees from leveraging what little advantage they have in a community that has increasingly made it harder for them to thrive with each passing year?
In such a competitive environment, it's the little things that separate a good employer from a great one. Workplace culture, opportunities for advancement, mental health supports—hell, even the odd staff party to blow off some steam—would go a long way.
I'm not trying to pile on our business community. After all, it is the engine that drives our little resort town. But at a time when Whistler is fighting to achieve the appropriate balance between our recent lightspeed growth and the distinct character that has made this community so special, there should be bigger fish to fry than some new business opening up shop.