Down, but not out: How restaurants are adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic

Published May 15, 2020

The latest survey from Restaurants Canada paints another grim picture of the Canadian foodservice landscape, while also shining a light on the industry’s creativity and resilience.

At the start of May, just over half (52%) of restaurant operators surveyed said they were open for takeout and/or delivery, while 37% said their operations were completely shut down temporarily. The remainder said they either have permanently closed their doors for good already, run a seasonal operation that has not opened yet for the year, or have closed some locations, but not all of them. 

Of those that said they were open for takeout and/or delivery, a staggering 96% reported lower same-store sales for the final two weeks of April compared to the same period a year ago. For three out of four respondents, the dismal sales performance in the second half of April was either the same or worse as the first half of April.

More than a third (36%) of respondents said their sales worsened compared to the first half of April and more than a quarter (26%) said the second half of April was “a lot worse” than the first half.

How restaurants are adapting to pull through the pandemic

Nearly nine out of 10 restaurant operators still providing takeout and/or delivery said they have adapted these services to change how they interact with guests or to add new revenue streams.

The most common changes they made were simplifying/reducing their number of menu offerings (64%) and offering contactless pick-up/curbside pick-up (62%). 

Just over 54% of respondents added alcohol to the menu for takeout and/or delivery, with many reporting this change had a positive impact on their business.  Nearly half (48%) are now offering contactless delivery.  A few trends that have made newspaper headlines are the growing number of restaurants that are selling groceries (21%) and meal kits (20%).

Are these recent trends temporary or is there staying power to them?

It won’t be business as usual once emergency measures are lifted. The vast majority of those surveyed — including those who have been closed during the pandemic and those who are open for takeout/delivery — said they will be continuing or making new changes to their services or menu.

Six in 10 plan to provide, or continue to provide, contactless payment.  Just over half will provide contactless pick-up/curbside pickup. A simplified/reduced number of menu offerings may remain over the near term according to 54% of respondents until business fully picks up.

Interestingly, meal kits may have some staying power at restaurants (17%) while only 11% of respondents will continue to sell groceries.

As the response to COVID-19 continues to evolve, Restaurants Canada continues to be at the table, working with all levels of government to ensure the concerns of the foodservice community are being addressed, while working with our partners and other key stakeholders to ensure our industry has access to relevant resources.

Canadian foodservice operators are encouraged to visit restaurantscanada.org/covid19 for the latest information and resources relevant to our industry.

About the Restaurants Canada survey

The above findings are from an online survey conducted by Restaurants Canada between May 1 and May 5, 2020. Restaurants Canada received a total of 890 completed surveys from foodservice operators across the country. This represents 11,965 locations (as many respondents operate multi-unit businesses).

Restaurants Canada Digital

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