After suffering through one of the worst years on record, we’ve finally made it to a new year. But, the foodservice industry is not out of the woods yet. It will take years to recover from the ravages of 2020, but with financial assistance and support from the government and co-operation from consumers who still need to follow safety protocols to keep this virus at bay, the industry will survive. One day, in the not-so-distant future, it may even thrive.
For now, the industry needs to have the ongoing support of government to get to the other side. The pandemic caught everyone off guard and as operators across the country struggled to pivot, governments – both federal and provincial — didn’t always have the right solutions or the tough leadership required to get us through.
For example, there was no conclusive statistical data to suggest restaurants were complicit in community spread, but the government continued to make them scapegoats and victims. Alberta’s medical officer shared data that only one per cent of COVID-19 cases were traced back to restaurants, while 40 per cent were linked to household and social gatherings. In Ontario, despite pleadings from the restaurant community for more conclusive information on where community spread was taking place, the government didn’t always provide that statistical accountability.
Operators are used to keeping customers safe. As Frank Hennessey, president/CEO of Recipe Unlimited, stated in an article in the Toronto Star, “We’re one of the most regulated industries, so it’s not a big stretch for us to put on masks and separate people inside a restaurant. Hand-washing, constant temperature taking — we do that just from a food-safety perspective. So, it’s ironic that the one industry uniquely suited to operate safely in this situation is the one government is closing.”
Operators know January and February are the toughest months in which to operate at the best of times and this year will be even more daunting. A survey undertaken last year by Restaurants Canada showed eight out of 10 restaurants are either losing money or barely getting by; 65 per cent are continuing to operate at a loss; and 19 per cent are breaking even. Not surprisingly, 48 per cent of single-unit operators expect to permanently close their units if conditions don’t improve. With such harrowing statistics, it’s time federal and provincial governments re-visit their strategies to help this industry move forward in realistic, proactive and measured ways rather than continuing to victimize and target it as the culprit. FH