Foodservice and the law in the time of COVID-19

Brett Colvin, co-founder and CEO of Goodlawyer, lays out some of the predominant areas restaurant and bar owners need to consider during – and after – the pandemic.

While the foodservice industry has always experienced its share of ups and downs, 2020 has introduced a slew of new challenges for owners and operators, both in Canada and worldwide. Though some provinces have cautiously started the process of reopening businesses of all types, with news surrounding legislation and government-funded benefits being updated on a daily basis it’s difficult for restaurant owners and operators to determine if the proactive steps they are taking to ensure the vitality of their businesses are in line with regulations.

The landlord-tenant relationship, for instance, is one of the largest areas of concern for restaurants and bars during the COVID-19 pandemic. And though the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program is now up-and-running, it doesn’t mean all landlords are taking advantage of it.

“All parties are suffering right now, and so many landlords have refused to apply for CECRA, citing their inability to cover 25 per cent of their tenants’ monthly rent,” explains Brett Colvin, co-founder and CEO of Goodlawyer, a company that offers online “micro” legal services, including document reviews and advice sessions. As the program was rolled out quickly to meet the needs of small businesses across Canada, Colvin notes that accuracy and clarity may have been sacrificed in the short term. “Every situation is different,” he says. “Tenants really need to be well-versed in both their and their landlord’s specific situation before applying.”

This is just one area Colvin has seen become a concern for restaurant owners as the COVID-19 pandemic stretches into months-long territory. Employment law is another topic many business owners are having difficulty wrapping their heads around, especially since the flow of information is constant and changing on a day-to-day basis.

The first step, Colvin says, is to take a close look at supplier contracts, one of the services Goodlawyer offers. “Existing supplier contracts are critical,” he says. “Make sure you understand these agreements in detail and don’t be afraid to seek out a lawyer if you don’t. Owners need to know what their responsibilities are in relation to these contracts, be aware of any potential breaches, and what their supplier’s recourse might be in terms of recouping service fees.”

In the end, Colvin believes that knowledge is power. “The best advice I can give to restaurants and bars is to stay plugged in and make sure you are aware of any updates coming from provincial or federal governments and to engage professionals if you have questions you need answered – even if it’s just for 15 minutes,” he suggests.

To learn more about Goodlawyer’s offerings and how to book a free 15-minute advice session, visit their website.

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