Restaurants Canada Hosts Breakfast with Champions Event


By Nicole Di Tomasso

TORONTO — Last Wednesday, hospitality industry leaders gathered at the Liberty Grand Entertainment Complex for Restaurants Canada’s Breakfast with Champions event to gain data-driven insights, the latest trends and exclusive knowledge from innovators and leading speakers.

Hosted by Noah Cappe, host of Food Network Canada’s Wall of Chefs, Wall of Bakers and Carnival Eats, the event began with an economic forecast, presented by Chris Elliott, senior economist at Restaurants Canada, and Jean-Philippe Gervais, vice-president of Economics & Valuations and Chief Economist at Farm Credit Canada.

Elliott’s presentation focused on how to grow the industry in world of “less labour, less goods and less certainty.” He went on to say that back in the third quarter of 2021, the foodservice industry saw 145,000 job vacancies, coming in at a rate of 11 per cent. With the accommodation sector included, that number jumped to 200,000 job vacancies. Additionally, data from Statistics Canada showed that the working age population is continuing to decline. The number of 15 to 24 year olds are fewer today than what they were 10 years ago. Furthermore, the number of 20 to 24 year olds has plateaued and this cohort accounts for roughly 40 per cent of the industry’s workforce.

“Right now, we’re only applying short-term solutions [to labour shortages],” said Elliott. “Eighty-one per cent [of operators] are increasing hours worked by owners and staff causing burnout and reducing hours of operation can’t cut your way to growth. We need a long-term, sustainable solution because this problem isn’t going away. The one thing we’re not talking about that can help address the labour shortage problem is working with labour productivity, but this is an industry that has a labour productivity gap as well.”

Statistics Canada tracks labour productivity and out of 210 industries, Elliott said foodservice ranks 208. Specifically, productivity growth for restaurants over the last two decades is only three per cent. Investments in technology to improve labour productivity gives operators a competitive advantage. In Canada, 74 per cent of QSR operators are looking to expand technology in the next two years through online ordering apps, new POS systems, reservation apps and inventory management. In the U.S., restaurant robots are already being introduced at Chipotle and Jack in the Box for example. Conversely, Elliott said the low-tech solution is to fix the turnover rate, claiming the sector’s turnover rate is 10 points higher than the retail sector.

“Overall, there are both high-tech and low-tech solutions, but the industry is at a crossroads,” said Elliott. “Labour shortages will continue, but technology is expensive and reduces human interaction. Ultimately, we need to find that intersection between technology and the human experience. The last two years have been crazy. This has taught us the amount of innovation and creativity that we have in this industry. We’ve gone through the pandemic, and we need to apply that same level of creativity and that same level of passion and innovation to the labour shortage problem.”

Gervais, on the other hand, spoke about what the industry can expect regarding inflation, interest rates, food security and supply chain in the next year. He said before the end of 2022, markets are expecting another 1.75 per cent increase in interest rates in the Bank of Canada, however, lifting interest rates will not help solve all of the supply-chain issues.

“Food supply-chain inflation is going to continue. It won’t be until fall or early winter of 2022 that we get any relief from a food inflation standpoint,” said Gervais. “All costs are climbing and fast. When economic fluctuations happen, there’s a lot of changes happening within the industry. No matter what segment you operate it, that line of sight to consumer behaviour at a time where consumers have to deal with inflation is critical to understand in order position yourself well in the business and the supply chain. The good news is consumers want to live the experiences that they’ve been missing and they have some purchasing power.”

The event continued with a panel discussion featuring Donna Dooher, executive chef and owner of Mildred’s Temple Kitchen, and Lara Skripitsky, vice-president and Chief Technology & Operations Support Officer at McDonald’s Canada. The discussion, moderated by Roberto Sarjoo, senior director of Marketing at Smooth Commerce, offered both independent and chain perspectives on how the panelists’ businesses overcame pandemic-related challenges to operate in this new normal.

Skripitsky said McDonald’s Canada began its digital transformation five years before the pandemic started with the launch of its mobile app, mobile ordering, curbside pickup and McDelivery, and installation of digital menu boards and self-serve kiosks. When the pandemic hit, Skripitsky refers to the “Three Ds” as the most important elements to the company’s success: digital, drive thru and delivery.

Similarly, Dooher said her team built an online e-commerce platform in 48 hours. Tables and chairs were cleared in the restaurant and the space was transformed into a mini processing plant to organize bags of pancake mix, biscuits and scones to bring these items into customers’ homes.

Other speakers included David U.K., CEO of Pros and Content, who spoke about marketing in a post-pandemic environment and the growing importance of data-driven campaigns, and Jeremy Gutsche, founder and CEO of Trend Hunter, who spoke about the return of the Roaring 20s, pointing to lessons from history to emerge successfully from a period of disruption and chaos.

The event concluded with an awards presentation. The RC Culinary Award was presented to Donna Dooher; the RC Social Advocate Award was presented to Trevor Lui, chef and co-founder of Quell Now Inc., a talent agency tackling systemic inequities in the hospitality industry; and the RC Leadership Award was presented to John Sinopoli, co-owner and executive chef of Ascari Hospitality Group and co-founder of SaveHospitality.CA.

“I want to thank Restaurants Canada from the bottom of my heart for keeping our industry going and bringing the attention to policy makers who need to understand how important our industry is to Canadians and our Canadian economy,” said Dooher.

“The pandemic taught us a lot,” said Lui. “It taught us about everything that was wrong with our industry and it also taught us about how resilient we are. Many of you have the power to make room for people who need a voice. I encourage all of you to elevate voices and make room for those that are underrepresented, particularly for those from the Indigenous community and the Black community. We also need to make space for women in our kitchens and our industry. Thank you Restaurants Canada for all the work you’ve done, ushering us through this difficult time.”

“We did what we could to raise the awareness and create a narrative and an environment in which nobody could just let us die quietly,” said Sinopoli. “We have to talk loud and tell everyone how important it is what we do and teach society how challenging our business model is. We’re hustlers and we’re hard workers and we’re fortunate to work shoulder-to-shoulder with people who feel the same way. This award, this recognition is for everyone who worked on Save Hospitality.”

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