“Needless” restaurant closures spark calls for compensation

The Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association (ORHMA) and Restaurants Canada have sent an open letter to Ontario Premier Doug Ford requesting immediate action to reverse the impacts to Ontario’s foodservice sector as a result of “needless” restaurant closures.

ORHMA notes that as a result of last week’s shutdown announcement, Ontario’s restaurants have spent more than $100 million in reopening and closing costs alone.

“There’s an element of injustice for the foodservice sector here as just two weeks ago operators were hiring staff and stocking their inventories readying for patios to reopen,” adds the association’s president and CEO, Tony Elenis.

Elenis says those patios were “a safer haven” for outdoor gatherings and for Ontarians’ mental health, and that the latest shutdown is “targeting our sector” above others.

“Within less than 48 hours, all was taken away,” continues Elenis.

He stresses that the compensation grants available “are not nearly enough to support the opening and closings mandated by the Ford government. This doesn’t even take into account operating costs including rent and utilities.”

According to the Toronto Star, industry groups estimate that many restaurants spent between $8,000-$10,000 on food, supplies, and staff. That money has largely gone to waste with the new closures.

“Our Ontario members have told us they lose about $10,000 every time one of their establishments is suddenly ordered to shut down dining services,” said James Rilett, vice-president of Restaurant Canada’s Central Canada office, per the Star. “For a restaurant that’s been through three lockdowns, the province’s $20,000 small business grant hardly covers their closing and reopening costs, let alone compensation for revenue lost while shut down.”

RELATED: Assessing pandemic workplace safety within foodservice

An open letter

In their open letter to Ford, ORHMA and Restaurants Canada urge the provincial government that, for public health measures to be fair and effective, all industries must be impacted equally.

The letter from Elenis and Restaurants Canada President CEO Todd Barclay also stresses that patio dining should remain available as an alternative to private gatherings, as safe options for enjoying outdoor activities are important for people’s mental health.

In addition, the two organizations emphasize that all restaurants should be supported financially to mitigate rising debt in the following ways:

  • Making further funding available through the Ontario Small Business Support Grant program and allowing all foodservice establishments to receive funding.
  • Introducing a sector-specific program for covering reopening/closure costs such as wasted inventory, staffing costs, patio setup/takedown, etc.
  • Extending the property tax and energy cost rebate programs to all foodservice businesses that have been impacted by Red-Control level restrictions.
  • Immediately ending the 6% markup that restaurants pay for alcohol from the LCBO.

“This is not an ’emergency brake’: as evidenced by the crowded retail stores and plentiful private gatherings over the weekend, scapegoating the restaurant sector is clearly not going to get the province’s third wave under control,” concludes the letter.

“Unfortunately, we are not all in this together. In a year when so many others have continued to receive their full pay, and some industries thrived during the pandemic, those in the restaurant sector have never worked harder and lost so much through no fault of their own.

“Premier, this does not have to continue. Restaurants provide a safe alternative to private gatherings and should be supported in their efforts to do so. We are ready to work with you and your government to revive the economy and provide Ontario residents with safe spaces to spend time with each other outside of their homes.”