Ongoing Government Legislation Challenges Operators to Innovate

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These days a never-ending wave of legislation is keeping operators up at night, forcing them to rethink how they staff their kitchens, structure their menus and market to consumers.

The Challenges
The red tape was unrolled this summer as the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program underwent a major overhaul with a moratorium, followed by the introduction of new rules that further restrict access to the program. Now, operators in areas of high unemployment (six per cent or higher) can no longer apply for low-skilled temporary foreign workers.

The impact on the restaurant industry was palpable. “It made life very difficult for a lot of operators,” explained Mark von Schellwitz, VP, Western Canada with Toronto-based Restaurants Canada, giving an overview of the labour-strapped Alberta industry. “As a result, what you’re finding in many communities in Alberta is that restaurant staff are starting to get burned out, and their hours of operation are already being cut in restaurants in certain areas. It’s been a real challenge.”

Shrinking labour pools have been an ongoing headache for Edmonton-based Sroka Group Restaurants International Inc., which owns nine Smitty’s Family Restaurants and a Tyson’s Grill in Edmonton. “As many contacts as we make, ads that we run or job fairs that we attend, not every available person comes out,” says Barbara Smyth, VP.

To add to that, the threat of calorie-posting legislation is being realized in Ontario with the introduction of the Making Healthier Choices Act, geared towards chains with more than 20 units. “For any restaurant operator, the requirement will be for calories to be posted on the menu, and it effectively requires a redesign of everyone’s menu boards or your printed menus in restaurants. There are some operational and cost implications,” cautions Sherry MacLauchlan, director of Government Relations and Sustainability at McDonald’s Canada. “Smaller chains who don’t currently provide nutritional information will have to undergo the additional expense to analyze their menu offerings to determine the nutritional profile of each menu item.”

Elsewhere, foodservice operators are puzzled by Canada’s anti-spam legislation (CASL), which came into effect in July. Companies that use email, SMS, social media or instant messaging to communicate with customers about their business can now be slapped with a hefty fine if they don’t obtain express consent.

It challenged the marketing team at Boston Pizza to rethink their approach with consumers. “The biggest challenge we faced with the CASL changes was around communicating and educating our key stakeholders about the changes — specifically our marketing team as well as franchisees. In addition, we had to update, change or eliminate programs at every touch point with guest-facing communication,” explains Drew Campbell, marketing manager, Digital and Social Media at Boston Pizza.

The Opportunities
Despite government bureaucracy, new legislation and regulations also offers a chance for change and innovation.
The new TFW rules have inspired innovation on many fronts, joining stakeholders and governmental agencies to create programs geared towards matching the unemployed with the under-staffed.

Several chain restaurants are taking advantage of a new pilot program in Edmonton that helps the disadvantaged and underrepresented find positions in full-service, QSR, catering, long-term care homes and institutional dining. The Alberta Foodservice Labour Connections pilot is a year-long initiative developed by the Government of Alberta and Restaurants Canada. “The pilot was very timely, given the devastating news about changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker program,” says Barb Jusiak, program manager at Restaurants Canada. “An increasing number of members and service providers [are joining] the program, bringing even more job openings and a bigger pool of candidates from different areas of the city.” As of January, nearly 300 job seekers entered the program, and 22 per cent have found employment in their preferred location at chains such as Tim Hortons, Boston Pizza, Compass Group Canada and Starbucks.

“[Barb] sends me candidates almost every week, allowing us to meet with the individual and discuss their interests in the restaurant. This program has been extremely successful for us, bridging us with several different agencies and finding employees that may have not found their way to our front door,” says Smyth. The pilot ends May 31, but von Schellwitz says there are talks to expand beyond Edmonton to Calgary and further.

When it comes to calorie-posting legislation, many restaurant chains have already revamped their menus. In fact, Tim Hortons recently launched a Balanced Options menu calculator program online. Customers can use the personalized meal builder to tally nutritional information of menu items and to see the nutritional differences between adding milk or cream to coffee, for example.

By being transparent Tim Hortons is empowering guests to make balanced meal decisions, while building brand loyalty, says Tammy Martin, SVP of Tim Hortons in Oakville, Ont. “This has little to do with sales and more to do with the fact that we have millions of guests visiting our restaurants every day, and the relationship we’ve built with them is what’s important. Being able to give them information to make balanced decisions is part of our obligation to that relationship.”

Most chains across Canada have adopted the B.C. Informed Dining program, which empowers operators to highlight calorie and sodium information for all standard menu items. “Calories don’t tell the whole story,” MacLauchlan explains. “That’s the limitation with menu-board labelling, and that’s why the industry felt Informed Dining was the best model, because it requires members to participate in a program to have all that comprehensive information for customers at the point of purchase.” Ontario’s proposed legislation isn’t as comprehensive, so the chain will comply with the law, while continuing to employ the Informed Dining program, she adds.

Meanwhile, soon after the CASL rules came into effect, the Boston Pizza marketing team launched a guest-facing communications platform called MyBP, a digital loyalty program that allows the team to communicate and make special offers to guests online or on their smartphone. “The launch of MyBP also gave us the opportunity to reconnect with guests enrolled in some of our older programs and get them excited about the new program and benefits. We’re also using social media more than ever to engage with guests, offer surprise and delight and listen to their valuable comments and feedback,” sums up Campbell.

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