Restaurants will need subsidies to survive winter says industry group
A foodservice industry group is calling for a continuation of wage and rent subsidy programs as restaurants look to rebound from COVID-19 restrictions. Restaurants Canada said eight out of 10 establishments across the country will need help getting through the fall and winter seasons.
Rebecca Sawyer, manager of Shooters Downstairs Lounge in Sault Ste. Marie, said government subsidies have helped them keep the doors open and their staff employed.
"Without the wage subsidy program and a number of little supports that we've been able to kind of get our hands into, there's a good chance that we wouldn't even be open right now," Sawyer said. "I do believe that the wage subsidy program going into the new year is almost going to be absolutely necessary, if not closer to the spring."
James Rilett, a vice-president of Restaurants Canada, said the industry in Ontario continues to struggle and that wage and rent subsidies must continue. He said many establishments have taken on a lot of debt over the last 19 months.
"They're now having to service that debt or pay back bills that had just been put on hold," Rilett said. "So all that is coming due and it just makes profitability in the restaurant sector a delayed thing right now."
The industry saw a rebound in the summer, he said, but with patios closing for the season and the vaccine passport system in place, restaurants are once again seeing a drop in sales.
"When the vaccine passport was brought in, about 60 per cent reported decreased revenue, and 40 per cent say it was significant," Rilett said.
Sawyer agrees, saying the passport system has had an impact on her business.
"Despite how soon we saw it coming, it's nothing you can really, truly prepare for," she said. "We're dependent on the public to decide that this is what they are willing to participate with and still come out and support restaurants, bars, and the industry as a whole."
Even after all public health restrictions come down, Rilett estimates it will take up to 18 months for the industry to fully recover. Sawyer contends it will take even longer given the pandemic's impact on the economy as a whole.