Connect with us


‘We’re just hanging on:’ Rocky start to summer patio season puts restaurants on edge


7 minute read

Bill Pratt, a veteran chef and CEO of Chef Inspired soup of Restaurants, poses at one of his restaurants, Cheese Curds Gourmet Burgers + Poutinerie in Dartmouth, N.S. on Wednesday, May 17, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

By Brett Bundale in Halifax

Restaurants in Canada are being slammed with a daunting mix of soaring costs, staffing issues and capacity problems, making a slow start to the critical summer patio season a near crisis for some eateries across the country, industry experts say.

They say restaurants are struggling with the ballooning price of food, rent, utilities, labour and insurance, with many of the higher costs being absorbed for fear of losing customers if menu prices rise too quickly.

Now a rocky start to summer across much of Canada — from cool weather in parts of Eastern Canada to wildfires out west — has eaten into a vital season for restaurants.

“You’ve got to be busy in the summer,” said Bill Pratt, a veteran chef and CEO of Dartmouth, N.S.-based Chef Inspired Group of Restaurants. “When the sun shines, you better be making hay.”

Restaurant-goers see busy patios or lineups outside eateries and “assume we must be making oodles of money,” Pratt said. “But if you don’t squirrel that away, you won’t survive the winter.”

The lacklustre start to patio season has also hurt workers.

Some servers are sent home early if dining rooms and patios don’t fill up, while still others are told not to come into work at all if the forecast isn’t promising.

It’s a scenario that makes paying the bills tough for restaurant workers, many of whom were out of a job during months of pandemic lockdowns.

Yet finding a second job when they’re already scheduled to work several days a week can be difficult.

Meanwhile, popular eateries in some parts of the country may have lineups and appear busy, but might be limiting the number of tables due to a shortage of staff.

“Even though we see lineups in front of restaurants, that’s because we don’t have enough people to serve our customers,” said Olivier Bourbeau, vice-president of federal affairs with industry group Restaurants Canada.

“Some restaurants are busy but only at 80 per cent capacity because of the labour shortage.”

Other restaurants have enough staff and are at full capacity when open — but have shorter operating hours.

The shift to working from home has forced some restaurants to stop offering a lunch service, limiting a restaurant’s chance to recoup basic fixed costs like rent, Bourbeau said.

Others are still not open seven days a week.

Meanwhile, inflation has put pressure on household budgets, prompting some Canadians to curb eating out, switch to take out over a sit-down meal or opt for more affordable fast food options.

Even restaurants with revenues that have rebounded strongly are struggling with slimmer profit margins, according to restaurant advocates.

“We’re just paying bills,” Pratt said. “We’re not getting ahead and many are struggling to repay debt.”

Restaurants have been raising prices, but at a more muted pace than grocery stores.

Restaurant menu prices rose 6.4 per cent last month compared with a year earlier, while grocery prices jumped 9.1 per cent year over year, Statistics Canada said this week.

“If I raise my taco 10 cents, I get called out,” said Pratt, whose restaurants include Habaneros Modern Taco Bar and Cheese Curds Gourmet Burgers + Poutinerie.

“If I raise my burger prices too high people will just go to the big chains instead,” he said. “But food costs have skyrocketed. A jug of oil has tripled in price and beef has gone from $7.99 a kilo to $10.25”

Pratt added: “If I raise my prices 25 per cent I’d be out of business. Holy loving, we’re just hanging on.”

The erosion of restaurant profit margins has left little to repay COVID-19 government loans, restaurant advocates say.

The situation has prompted multiple business groups to call on Ottawa to extend the looming deadline to repay the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) loans.

The loans must be repaid in full by Dec. 31 or a forgivable portion is converted to a loan, and interest will begin to accrue on the full amount — as much as $60,000, Restaurants Canada says.

The government had previously extended the deadline for the interest-free, partially forgivable loans, by one year. After Dec. 31, outstanding loans will be converted to two-year term loans with 5 per cent interest.

“The state of the industry is panic right now,” Pratt said. “That deadline is quickly approaching.”

Bankruptcy figures from Restaurants Canada shed light on a troubling trend the industry group warns could worsen without a strong summer season, an easing up of runaway food costs and a delay of loan repayments.

In the first two months of 2023, 106 restaurants went bankrupt, up 116 per cent from 49 restaurants in the first two months of last year and up 18 per cent compared with 90 restaurants in 2019.

“There are a lot of brokers out there right now looking to sell restaurants,” Pratt said. “The deadline for the CEBA remittance is quickly approaching and people are trying to get something out of their business rather than sinking.”

He added: “People are putting on a brave face but at the end of the day, there’s a lot of sleepless nights by a lot of restaurant owners.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2023.

Storytelling is in our DNA. We provide credible, compelling multimedia storytelling and services in English and French to help captivate your digital, broadcast and print audiences. As Canada’s national news agency for 100 years, we give Canadians an unbiased news source, driven by truth, accuracy and timeliness.

Follow Author


Moneris confirms credit and debit card processing outage, but offers few details

Published on


The Canadian payment processing firm Moneris confirmed Saturday that credit and debit card transactions were interrupted by a network outage earlier in the day.

The Toronto-based technology company issued a statement saying there was nothing to suggest the outage was related to a cyber attack.

Complaints about outages started rolling in to the website before noon eastern time, but Moneris did not say when the outage started.

About three hours later, Moneris posted a message on X — the  social media site formerly known as Twitter — saying it had resolved the network problem.

It remains unclear how many businesses and transactions were affected, but data provided by indicated complaints had come in from across the country.

In a statement provided to The Canadian Press, the company said the outage lasted about 90 minutes.

“We have resolved the network outage and returned transaction processing to normal,” the statement said. “We continue to investigate the root cause of the issue. There are no indications this appears to be cyber-attack related and all transaction systems are functioning normally again.”

The company, a joint venture between  Royal Bank and BMO Bank of Montreal, said transaction processing could be slow as its systems catch up with the backlog.

Moneris says it supports more than 325,000 merchant locations across Canada.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2024.

Continue Reading


Smith says despite difficulty with Ottawa, Alberta has allies in Trudeau cabinet

Published on

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith speaks to business leaders at the Global Business Forum in Banff, Alta., Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. Smith told the conference that despite her concerns with the federal Liberal government there was some cabinet ministers she can work with. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

By Bill Graveland in Banff

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith told a business conference on Friday that despite her concerns with the federal Liberal government, there are some cabinet ministers she can work with.

Smith has been at odds with federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson amid concerns over Ottawa’s climate-change policies and transition plan for a net-zero emissions economy.

Guilbeault intends to publish draft regulations this fall to cap emissions from oil and gas, then force them downward overtime. Ottawa has also set a target to have the electricity grid be net-zero by 2035, but Alberta says it’s unrealistic.

Smith says Alberta won’t implement the emissions cap, nor will it follow the 2035 target.

The premier told delegates at the Global Business Forum in Banff, Alta., that Wilkinson needs to answer for comments he made earlier this week at the World Petroleum Congress in Calgary.

Wilkinson’s call for the industry to work aggressively to get to net-zero was basically telling them to “pack it up, because the oil and gas industry is winding down,” said Smith.

“You could just feel the energy leave the room and you could just feel the investment dollars leave the room.”

Smith said energy producing provinces such as Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador, can’t trust the Trudeau government to look out for their interests at international conferences.

“After hearing how the natural resources minister talks about our industry, after hearing how the federal environment minister talks about our industry, we can’t afford to let them carry our message,” Smith said.

“We can’t afford not to be there.”

Smith said she has been in discussions with Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and intends to talk to Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey about joint presentations at conferences in the future.

Despite her disappointment with Wilkinson and Guilbeault, Smith said it’s not all bad.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland among the top allies, she said.

“Let’s give her credit for shepherding through all of the constant need to give more debt financing to Trans Mountain pipeline to get that to the finish line. That has not been easy,” Smith said.

She also praised Innovation Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc, Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan and Employment Minister Randy Boissonnault.

“I would say it’s not uniformly negative in the Liberal caucus. But for some reason they’re allowing Stephen Guilbeault to be a maverick and a renegade and quite offensive to those of who are trying to be reasonable and adult about this,” Smith said.

Smith said it’s time for the federal government to back away from setting “aggressive targets” in dealing with the provinces.

“Aggressive targets are not helpful. They’re not helpful to us. They’re not helpful to investors.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 22, 2023.

Continue Reading