Restaurants Canada is eager to get back to work with the federal government toward feeding our recovery

Published October 26, 2021

Canada’s foodservice businesses deserve support programs that will help them survive the ongoing COVID-19 crisis so they can continue reviving communities across the country.

Restaurants Canada welcomes the return of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his new minority government, and we look forward to working with his federal cabinet of 38 ministers sworn in today at Rideau Hall.

As the voice of Canada’s vital foodservice industry, we are eager to renew our engagement with the federal government on issues of importance for the more than 90,000 small-to-medium-sized businesses that make up our critically important sector.

Restaurant operators are innovative and resourceful, but the COVID-19 pandemic has stretched their resiliency to the limits. Our hardest-hit industry deserves support programs that will help them survive the ongoing crisis so they can continue reviving communities across the country.

Restaurants are key to feeding our recovery

As we look toward building back a stronger, more sustainable economy for our post-pandemic future, restaurants have a pivotal role to play. Foodservice businesses not only provide Canada’s fourth-largest source of private sector jobs, they also reflect our country’s impressive diversity:

  • Women make up 58% of the foodservice workforce.
  • 31% of restaurant owners, operators and staff belong to a visible minority.
  • Half of all Canadian restaurants are run by talented, hardworking, entrepreneurs who came here as immigrants.
  • 1 in 5 Canadians between the ages of 15 and 24 are employed in restaurants.

Before COVID-19 struck, Canada’s foodservice sector was a $95 billion industry, directly employing 1.2 million people, providing Canada’s number one source of first jobs and serving 22 million customers across the country every day.

While all other sectors of the economy have recovered nearly all their pandemic job losses and have mostly returned to pre-pandemic revenue levels, the hospitality sector still has more than 180,000 fewer workers than February 2020, at least 12,000 foodservice establishments have permanently shut down, and about half of all remaining restaurants are still at risk of closing.

Foodservice operators need policies that facilitate business continuity, so they can make contingency plans as they continue to navigate the road from survival to revival.

The reality is, when restaurants thrive, so do the communities they call home: more than 95 cents of every dollar spent at a typical foodservice establishment goes back into the economy in the form of:

  • local jobs
  • food and beverage purchases
  • charitable giving
  • and more

Key issues for foodservice

Working together with Restaurants Canada, the federal government can help foodservice businesses continue playing an integral part of the social and economic fabric of our communities.

Below are recommendations for measures in key areas where restaurants continue to require government support to successfully transition from survival to revival and keep feeding Canada’s COVID-19 recovery.

Restaurant Survival Support

  • Better access to federal rent and wage subsidies. Eight out of 10 restaurants have been losing money or barely breaking even throughout the entire pandemic. At least half are at risk of losing access to wage and rent support due to the unduly narrow eligibility requirements of the new subsidy programs. Without these critical sources of support, most will struggle to continue paying staff and suppliers and many will have to consider closing down for good.
  • The option for any restaurants eligible for the wage subsidy to be able to apply for added funding through the Canada Recovery Hiring Program, so that they can hire new workers in addition to keeping the ones they already have on payroll.
  • Partial forgiveness for all government-backed loans. Currently loan forgiveness is only available through the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA). Restaurants Canada would like to see this as well for the Highly Affected Sectors Credit Availability Program (HASCAP) and any other loan program that the government introduces to help businesses recover from the pandemic.
  • Tax credits to defray the exorbitant costs incurred from COVID-19 health and safety expenditures.

Labour Development

While total employment in Canada returned to pre-pandemic levels in September, restaurants still haven’t recovered at least 25% of the 800,000+ workers they had to let go at the height of the pandemic. To help the foodservice sector overcome pre-existing labour shortages exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, a National Foodservice Labour Development Strategy is needed, including measures such as:

  • Support for the expansion of impactful labour pilot programs, such as the Atlantic Immigration Program and Alberta Foodservice Labour Connections.
  • An increase in federal funding to ensure efficient and effective processing of immigration applications by reducing wait times, administrative burdens, and increasing information-sharing between sponsors.
  • An extension of work visas for a full year and suspension of fees until 2022.
  • The addition of a foodservice stream into the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) to address seasonal and long-term labour shortages, as well as a redesign of the national occupational classification structure to broaden the categories of positions that foodservice employers can use the TFWP to help fill, as well as a lower administrative burden on small businesses who use the TFWP.

A “Do No Harm” Approach to Taxes, Fees & Red Tape

To create the best possible conditions for recovery after 18+ months of either losing money or barely breaking even, foodservice operations need government to take a “do no harm” approach with taxes and regulations, including:

  • A whole-of-society approach to single-use items, built on evidence-based policies and consistent standards across jurisdictions.
  • A freeze on any further excise duty increases on beer, wine or spirits.
  • A cap on credit/debit card interchange fees and the removal of merchant fees from the tax portion of restaurant bills.
  • Indexation of the passive investment income threshold to support restaurateurs making investments to safeguard or grow their operations.

Restaurant Relaunch Measures

To rebuild public confidence in dining out and help the hard-hit foodservice sector return to pre-pandemic levels of operations, restaurants need the following forms of support from the federal government:

  • An expansion of the current “meals and expenses” business tax credit from 50% to its original 100%.
  • A national dining rebate program allowing Canadians to save 50% when they eat at restaurants, as well as a culinary tourism incentive encouraging Canadians to support local foodservice businesses while travelling across the country.

To learn more about what foodservice businesses need to pull through the ongoing pandemic and continue reviving our communities, watch this video to hear what restaurant operators say they need to remain in the picture.

Marlee Wasser

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