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Restaurants in Canada: Navigating COVID-19 and Reopening

summer patio season
summer patio season
Todd Barclay

Todd Barclay

President and CEO of Restaurants Canada

As the spring turns to summer and the pace of vaccinations across the country continues to speed up, restaurant operators and staff finally have a reason to look forward – bring it on, it’s patio season. Many provinces have started to announce and roll out their reopening plans which include patio dining, and thankfully in some cases, a return to indoor dining.

At Restaurants Canada, we have continued to echo health experts who have been stating that outdoor settings pose very little risk and data and evidence show restaurants have not been the source of COVID-19 outbreaks, yet restaurants have continued to be singled out. We continue to position restaurants as and have always been, a safe alternative to private gatherings. We are pushing for the inclusion of restaurants in all reopening plans – it’s a light at the end of a long tunnel and a sense of a return to some sort of normalcy.

However, we cannot hide from the fact that revival and recovery will not be instantaneous. With Canadians now looking forward to hopefully enjoying a “one-dose summer”, we know this will not mean restaurants can operate at 100 percent capacity. We expect physical distancing requirements will remain in place for the short to mid-term in some regions across Canada. In fact, with the strict lockdown measures implemented across several regions in Canada to contain the third wave, and continued restrictions into the near future, we do not expect the industry to be on the road to fully recover until 2023.

To say we have been “impacted” is an understatement. According to our recent Restaurant Outlook Survey:

  • 8 out of 10 foodservice businesses have been operating at a loss or barely breaking even throughout the entire pandemic.
  • Nearly half of all restaurant operations have consistently been losing money for more than a year.

Further to that, we estimate that at least 10 percent of restaurant operations across the country have had to permanently close – that’s about 10,000 establishments that are now gone for good. And if subsidies are scaled back too soon, half of the restaurants face the risk of closure.

With these latest numbers, we reiterated our call to the federal government to immediately introduce a sector-specific Restaurant Survival Support Package containing the following measures to help our industry survive:

  • An exemption from the scheduled phase-out of the rent and wage subsidies for the highly affected foodservice sector, and an extension of these vital programs for restaurants until at least April 2022.
  • The option for any restaurants eligible for the wage subsidy to be able to apply for added funding through the Canada Recovery Hiring Program so that they can hire new workers in addition to keeping the ones they already have on payroll.
  • Partial forgiveness for all government-backed loans and an extension of application deadlines for existing programs.
  • Tax credits to defray costs of COVID-19 health and safety expenditures.

If the budget is implemented without any changes, the federal government will essentially be pulling up the support ramp right before relaunch and putting half of the restaurants at risk of being left behind.

Fighting back against this unwanted reality, Canadians are calling on their elected officials to help keep their local restaurants in the picture: Hundreds of postcards are currently on their way to members of Parliament across the country, and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland in Ottawa, demanding an immediate change of plans.

Anyone who wants to join the Restaurant Survival Coalition and help save local foodservice businesses can visit SupportRestaurants.ca to get started by sending a postcard of their own asking for sector-specific support and to request a meeting with our Restaurant Survival Coalition.

Restaurants are key to bringing jobs back to the Canadian economy and helping the main street get back on its feet. But first, they need to survive.

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