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A side of uncertainty: calls to help the restaurant industry survive the pandemic

Groups call for urgent action to help restaurant industry amid COVID-19
A letter, signed by multiple Chambers of Commerce nationwide, suggests it could be between 12 to 18 months before the food services industry returns to normal because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Vinesh Pratap has the details.

Despite being given the green light for in-dining service, it’s still not business as usual amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic at SABOR, a restaurant in downtown Edmonton.

The owners have chosen to open their space for dinner, forgoing lunch, which was a very busy time before being forced to close in March.

“We’d be packed, probably both rooms,” owner Christian Mena said, pointing to an empty dining room during the lunch hour on Monday.

Read more: COVID-19 outbreaks declared at 4 Edmonton restaurants

Before the pandemic, there were about 140 on staff. Numbers are lower now, but Mena is grateful customers are still coming in for dinner.

“We’re active in the community and always have been and I think that comes back. People take that into account and support the places that are a part of a community.”

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But for many restaurants in Alberta and across Canada, it’s a very real struggle — with revenues, in general, off by between 60 to 70 per cent.

Alberta restaurants expected to maintain COVID-19 measures during NHL playoffs: Hinshaw
Alberta restaurants expected to maintain COVID-19 measures during NHL playoffs: Hinshaw

A letter, signed by multiple Chambers of Commerce nationwide, suggests it could be between 12 to 18 months before the food services industry returns to normal.

“If we don’t build up confidence in the consuming public to go back into the restaurants, it’s going to be very difficult for that sector to improve and survive, to be honest,” Ken Kobly, the president and CEO of the Alberta Chambers of Commerce said.

Read more: Pub and restaurant in Kelowna, B.C., close temporarily after workers test positive for COVID-19

To prevent further upheaval, numerous recommendations are offered — everything from improvements to the rental assistance program, making permanent changes to liquor rules, to simply encouraging people to return to pre-COVID activities while practicing safety measures like mask use.

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“They [the federal government] were under a very tight timeline to deliver, but I think they could have improved a lot of those programs right from the get-go if they actually talked to the people who have to execute them,” Kobly said.

At SABOR, Mena points to “hard costs” like rent for the large space his restaurant takes up, plus new expenses for extra cleaning.

Read more: Coronavirus: Some Alberta restaurants struggling despite being allowed to reopen

While revenue has picked up, Mena continues to have questions about the future of his industry as he considers Alberta’s post-pandemic economy.

“In an industry where often times it’s considered a luxury, how do people who are pinching their pennies decide that they’re going to go out and eat at a restaurant?”

Alberta restaurants still struggling despite being allowed to open
Alberta restaurants still struggling despite being allowed to open

On Monday, Alberta confirmed an additional 368 positive cases of COVID-19 since Friday.

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