About fifteen companies in the restaurant sector, supported by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, are asking governments for help to deal with the difficulties specific to their industry during a pandemic. Otherwise, they say, 60% of restaurant owners could hang up their aprons permanently.
«As the economy slowly begins to recover, the federal government has so far failed to provide tailored assistance to meet the needs of hardest hit industries, such as foodservice», Say the instigators of an awareness campaign which has just been launched and which is called We restaurants.
The campaign is led by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, chains such as Benny & Co. and Boston Pizza, companies such as Molson Coors and Vins Arterra Canada as well as Restaurants Canada, which has 30,000 members (restaurants, bars, caterers, suppliers).
The restaurant industry is in bad shape, they say, listing, in terms of the difficulties, the drop in the number of customers, the costs generated by the pandemic and the assistance programs, which are certainly useful, but ill-suited to their needs. reality.
To drive the point home, the campaign’s instigators cite data from Statistics Canada’s Canadian Business Situation Survey (CBS).
Last May, for example, 29% of businesses in restaurants and accommodation were unable to operate properly with the social distancing measures introduced to counter the coronavirus.
If these measures are maintained, an additional 31% of businesses could disappear by November, still support the instigators of the campaign. Which leads the Chamber of Commerce and businesses to say that “up to 60% of the industry could fail in the next three months».
“We are in the mist,” says Elias Dib, owner for 17 years of the Arousse restaurant in Sainte-Thérèse, 30 km north of Montreal.
«I try to remain optimistic, confides this restaurateur who has more than thirty years of experience. I know that I have a loyal clientele, a good reputation and I believe I can survive.»
At the height of the pandemic, 83% of restaurants temporarily closed their doors.
Among them, the Arousse. This disastrous March 23, Elias Dib put a dozen employees out of work, or his entire team.
By May, 80% of the nation’s food and hospitality companies had laid off half or more of their staff. Restaurants Canada says the restaurant industry has lost 800,000 jobs.
Plexiglas and take-out
When he reopened his Lebanese family kitchen restaurant on June 23, Elias Dib had to deal with a new normal. Above the banquettes in his dining room, he had to install plexiglass dividers at a cost of $ 3,000. And only 40 of the 60 seats it had before the pandemic remained.
The restaurateur has reconstituted his team, two-thirds of which are made up of employees who were there before the confinement.
But now, hummus, falafels and kebbe are sold in take-out in 75% of cases. Before the pandemic, the opposite trend prevailed. Elias Dib served his specialties in the dining room in a proportion of 80%.
Compared to the same period last year, Mr. Dib recorded a decrease of at least 35% of his turnover.
According to Statistics Canada, 62.3% of restaurant businesses saw their income decline by 50% or more in April this year, compared to the same period last year. In almost 10% of cases, the drop in income was 30-40%.
Long-term help claimed
“As much in the beginning it was emergency measures, we are currently working with the government for medium and long-term measures to be able to revive the sector,” said David Lefebvre, Vice-President, Federal Affairs and Quebec within Restaurants Canada.
David Lefebvre welcomes the decision taken by the government of Justin Trudeau to extend, until December, the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy for Employers Hardly Affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Changes in the eligibility criteria have allowed more restaurateurs to benefit, further acknowledges Mr. Lefebvre.
But the health crisis is not over and the disappointments of restaurateurs either. For this reason, Restaurants Canada believes that the wage subsidy program should be extended until the first months of 2021.
On the initiative of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and to deal with COVID-19, more than 450 chambers of commerce and more than a hundred major trade and industry associations have formed the Canadian Business Resilience Network.
Owners who do not collaborate
In a letter dated July 20, this network called for the deployment “urgent measuresTo Justin Trudeau, the Council of the Federation and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, to ensure the survival of restaurants in the country.
The network notably called for changes to the Canada Emergency Assistance for Commercial Rent (AUCLC), “a big problem»For restaurateurs, argues David Lefebvre.
But the appeal was not heard by the three levels of government which jointly manage this measure intended to reduce rents businesses struggling with the pandemic.
As of July 30, 63,000 small business tenants have benefited, representing more than $ 613 million in rent support.
«However, it is difficult [pour les restaurateurs] to qualify, deplores David Lefebvre, and the process is 100% dependent on whether the owner wants to participate.»
As the owner must do most of the paperwork for the assistance to be paid, “it’s a bit difficult for the commercial tenant who comes across an owner who refusesHe said.
According to Mr. Lefebvre, financial assistance should be paid directly to the tenant, even if the owner does not agree.
Elias Dib s’estime «fortunate»For having obtained without difficulty the collaboration of the owner of the small shopping center where his restaurant is located. The restaurateur also receives the Emergency Wage Subsidy.
«Fortunately there are those two things, he says. Otherwise, with the numbers, let’s do … I’ll just cover my costs.»
Catastrophe apprehended in the fall
On April 23, elected members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance were told by the CEO of a group of restaurants that 10% of restaurants had closed definitely their doors at the end of March.
Many of those who held on are in precarious situation. And autumn, with the inevitable closure of the terraces, does not bode well.
«We have to tell people that it is safe to go to restaurants, insists David Lefebvre of Restaurants Canada. There were small problems with the bars, but not with the restaurants.»
«What worries me, says Elias Dib for his part, is the second wave that we talk about so much and that we are quite sure. And the opening of schools, what will it give? Will we be forced, in a month, a month and a half, to close?»
«It could be catastrophic for us», He concludes.
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