Saskatchewan restaurants brace for hardship once dine-in service resumes

Click to play video: 'Saskatchewan restaurants brace for hardship once dine-in service resumes' Saskatchewan restaurants brace for hardship once dine-in service resumes
WATCH: Saskatchewan restaurants are preparing for prolonged financial difficulty — even when dining rooms reopen – May 11, 2020

Since it opened in summer 2019, the Boston Pizza in Regina’s Acre 21 has weathered large crowds — and none at all.

On Monday, the location was quiet, as two staff members served takeout and delivery customers.

“We’re doing anywhere from 20 to 30 per cent of our normal sales, and once we reopen, I certainly don’t anticipate sales will be any more than 50 per cent,” said owner Jim Werschler.

Werschler owns 16 Boston Pizza locations across Saskatchewan in Regina, Saskatoon, Weyburn, Yorkton, Swift Current, North Battleford, Humboldt and Prince Albert.

READ MORE: More financial support needed for Saskatchewan’s food service industry: Restaurants Canada

“Our intent is to keep all the stores open, but the reality is, likely, they’re not all going to make it,” he said.

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Werschler said 863 staff members were laid off due to COVID-19, with only a limited number able to work while dine-in service is restricted.

The Saskatchewan foodservice industry has lost a combined 25,000 jobs amid the pandemic closure.

“When we reopen, at 50 per cent of our normal volumes, and we’re expected to pay all our current expenses and pick up some of our old expenses,” Werschler said.

“The math just isn’t going to work.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. restaurant industry warns reopening  will be a struggle' B.C. restaurant industry warns reopening will be a struggle
B.C. restaurant industry warns reopening will be a struggle – May 7, 2020

Dine-in service will resume at 50 per cent capacity in phase three of the Re-open Saskatchewan plan, which has no fixed date.

“It’s hard to determine when you’re going to bring staff back, and how you’re going to bring them back. We certainly know it’s going to be a lot more difficult to operate a restaurant moving forward,” he said.

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One of owner’s biggest concerns, which aligns with the findings from a recent Restaurants Canada survey, is managing deferred costs — with less financial assistance — once dine-in service resumes.

READ MORE: Canadian restaurants plan their reopenings as COVID-19 restrictions ease

Werschler told Global News he was able to talk with his landlords about deferring rent payments, but one location was served a default noticed 15 days after April rent was not paid. That matter has been resolved.

He wants to see the federal rental assistance enhanced and expanded, adding there is little incentive for property owners to take part.

READ MORE: Half of Canada’s independent restaurants could close without help, industry group warns

Restaurants Canada is seeking the same for its members, lobbying all levels of government to help businesses restart in a struggling economy.

The organization has predicted most Saskatchewan restaurants will only see 30 per cent of previous dine-in revenue levels once operations resume.

“It’s not going to be anywhere near the same sales volumes they had before COVID-19, and what our latest survey indicates is that 70 per cent of our members are very concerned about how they’re going to re-open,” said Mark von Schellwitz, Restaurants Canada Western Canada Vice President.

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That reality is already weighing on Darren Carter, managing partner at Beer Brothers Gastropub & Deli in downtown Regina and Bar Willow on Wascana Lake.

Saskatchewan’s $2.4-BILLION dollar foodservice industry represents three per cent of the province’s GDP. If conditions don’t improve, Restaurants Canada predicts sales could be down as much as $450 million dollars for the second quarter of 2020, and the industry might not be able to recover the 25,000 jobs lost due to COVID-19. Global News

Both restaurants have been temporarily closed since late March, with Bar Willow being the only one to resume takeout and delivery services.

“We’re pretty lucky at (Bar Willow) because it is smaller, it’s been an easier transition. At the other restaurant, it’s a lot bigger, a lot more moving parts, it just made more sense to close it entirely (for now),” Carter said.

Even when his businesses can reopen their doors, Carter noted there is still uncertainty about the appetite for the market amid safety concerns and other public health restrictions.

“Regina downtown is made up of a lot of people who come downtown for work and a lot of people who come to the city stay at hotels so when they’re not there, the population base isn’t very big,” he said.

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“It’s a pretty scary thought to consider.”

READ MORE: Canadian restaurants say delivery app fees eating away at bottom line amid COVID-19

Carter was able to access the Saskatchewan Small Business Emergency Plan (SSBEP), which helps those who have lost revenue due to COVID-19.

As of April 30, more than 1,300 restaurants have received a combined $5.4 million from the SSBEP, which was recently extended through the month of May.

“Extending it for a second payment is huge because all those payments are a great help. They’re a drop in the cost that a restaurant has to worry about — our rent, our taxes, our insurance,” he said.

READ MORE: Edmonton restaurant owner encourages people to think beyond delivery apps during COVID-19 crisis

Restaurants Canada also commended the Government of Saskatchewan on its response to industry concerns, but would like the province to approve reopening capacity on a per-business basis.

“Some may not even be able to get to 50 per cent, depending on how they’re configured to respect those new physical distancing requirements,” Von Schellwitz said.

“Others may be able to do slightly more than 50 per cent.”

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Current supports from the provincial government include deferring penalties and interest charges for businesses unable to remit their PST, and zero-interest bill deferral for up to six months on Crown utility payments.

In a statement, the province noted its Business Response Team has worked closely with businesses, including restaurants, regarding the Re-Open Saskatchewan plan and associated guidelines, and will continue to do so throughout this process.

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