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The ‘Voice of Foodservice’: Advocating on behalf of restaurants across Canada

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In this guest post, Restaurants Canada President & CEO, Todd Barclay speaks to some of the most recent challenges the foodservice industry is facing and how Restaurants Canada is advocating on behalf of operators.

As our team was about to finish up this March/April issue of MENU, the news that the province of Ontario was yet again locked down under a state of emergency for the next 28 days was announced. This follows news out of British Columbia, Alberta, and Quebec where dining has been impacted as well. The abrupt move so soon after easing restrictions presents our community with incredible challenges. I want to take this opportunity to address some of these challenges, and to update our members on our advocacy efforts.

Unfortunately, contrary to what many government officials have indicated, “we are not all in this together”. In a year when so many others have continued to receive their full pay, and some industries have thrived during the pandemic, those in the restaurant sector have never worked harder and lost so much through no fault of their own.

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, the foodservice sector was Canada’s fourth-largest employer, directly employing 1.2 million people. However, in the first six weeks of the pandemic, the restaurant industry lost more jobs than the entire Canadian economy lost during the 2008-2009 recession. One out of every five jobs lost during the initial lockdown from March to April 2020 was in Canada’s restaurant sector.

It is imperative to note that women make up 58 per cent of the restaurant workforce but accounted for six out of every 10 lost jobs and 31 per cent of restaurant owners, operators and staff belong to a visible minority. 50 per cent of Canadian restaurants are run by new Canadians, both groups who may have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. No other sector is still experiencing such a shortfall. All other industries have recovered at least 85% or more of their pandemic job losses.

This recent lockdown alone has cost Ontario’s restaurant industry more than $100 million in reopening and closing costs alone. Our members across Canada have told us they lose on average about $10,000 every time one of their establishments is suddenly ordered to shut down their dining services. 

I want to assure our industry that we continue to advocate on your behalf every day. 

We are working with government to ensure that programs are in place well past the end of this pandemic into 2022. We are also advocating for sector specific programs as we know that the current programs in place are not enough to support many operators in our industry. 

In Ontario, we released an open letter to Premier Doug Ford to call for the following:

  • For public health measures to be fair and effective, all industries must be impacted equally.
  • Patio dining should remain available as an alternative to private gatherings, as safe options for enjoying outdoor activities are important for people’s mental health.
  • All restaurants should be supported financially to mitigate rising debt. 

Another pivotal ask for all provincial governments across Canada is to ensure that our essential workers are prioritized to receive vaccinations. If we want to build back a stronger, more resilient Canada that continues to reflect our country’s incredible diversity, our industry is the best place to start. Restaurants are key to feeding our economic and social recovery. 

Going forward, we are looking for the government to help us re-energize and reinvigorate the industry post-pandemic. We are calling for significant marketing programs and other initiatives to get consumers and guests back into our restaurants. When safe to do so, we want the government to spend as much as they did on telling people to stay home, to inform them that we are indeed safe environments for guests to come and enjoy great experiences, promoting our industry in order to help build back consumer confidence.

To say that ‘times are tough’ is an understatement but I am confident that a brighter future is on the horizon.

MENU Mag: What actions has Restaurants Canada has been taking to help provide relief to restaurants?

A: From an advocacy perspective at the federal level, there are three main pillars of focus:

  • Ensuring programs that are currently in place stay well beyond the end of the pandemic, into the second quarter of 2022. 

The wage subsidy is especially important here; we want to ensure that employees are brought back to work (there are still more than 319,000 fewer jobs in the Canadian foodservice sector than there were in February 2020 – no other sector is still experiencing such a shortfall) because this is so imperative to a great customer experience when our doors reopen.

  • Creation of programs that are specific to our industry

The blanket programs in place now have not worked for everyone. As we know, 8 out of 10 restaurants are barely scraping by. More programs are needed for more to survive. Specifically, we are calling on the government to work with us on programs to increase the wage subsidy, eliminate rent caps and ensure no new programs are put in place that will add additional costs to our industry to operate. 

  • Lastly, we are asking the government to help us kickstart the industry post-pandemic 

When the pandemic is over, we need support from the government in the way of marketing initiatives and programs that help spread the message of restaurant safety. Authorities have spent money throughout the pandemic telling the public to stay home, we expect that they will do the same when it is time, to let consumers know that it is safe to go out.

On a provincial level, we are asking that the support grants provided to businesses be allowed for all restaurants that have realized revenue declines and for all costs, not just property tax and utilities. Additionally, we are calling on support from key decision makers, politicians and medical officials to use their platforms to let the public know that restaurants are safe. 

Lastly, I want to highlight the activities of our ‘Picture life without restaurants’ PR campaign. This consumer-focused campaign invites the public to imagine a world without their local cafe or diner and calls on them to support their community in this great time of need by signing a pledge. I recommend that operators visit SupportRestaurants.ca to learn more, get involved, and view our PSA.

Download an infographic of a month by month view of the effects of COVID-19 here.

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