restaurant sales

Restaurant sales have exceeded pre-pandemic levels for the first time

Restaurant sales in Canada surpassed their pre-COVID-19 levels for the first time since the pandemic began in March, according to Statistics Canada.

New data shows that Canadian bar and restaurant sales increased by 6.5 per cent monthly in March to $6.8 billion, reports the Canadian Press. Year-over-year, sales were up 35 per cent compared with March 2021 and 62.9 per cent compared with March 2020.

They were also 4.4 per cent above January 2020 levels and 4.9 per cent higher than March 2019, the first time that a monthly year-over-year sales total has eclipsed a corresponding total seen before the pandemic.

A loosening of restrictions led to improved sales in March at full-service restaurants (climbing seven per cent above pre-pandemic levels), while sales at quick-service restaurants held steady, up seven per cent above January 2020 levels. 

Ontario saw the largest increase in dollar terms, while Manitoba saw the biggest percentage increase.

However, the increase in sales has coincided with surging inflation and rising food costs across the country. Prices for restaurant food were up 5.4 per cent in March 2022 compared with March 2021, according to Statistics Canada, while prices for alcoholic beverages served in licensed establishments increased 3.6 per cent in the same period.

In real terms, quick-service restaurant sales were flat in March 2022 compared to January 2020 while sales at full-service restaurants were down by 1.6 per cent. Real sales are still down significantly at caterers (-24.7 per cent) and drinking places such as bars and nightclubs (-18.6 per cent), reports Restaurants Canada.

RELATED: 2020 was Canadian restaurants worst sales year on record

Still trouble ahead

Chris Elliot, a senior economist for Restaurants Canada, warned that while sales are up, restaurants are facing higher operating costs.

Elliot said that in response to a Restaurants Canada survey conducted from April 5-15, six out of 10 restaurant operators in Ontario said their businesses are still losing money or barely scraping by.

“While there has been an initial boost in sales due to pent-up consumer demand, we may see a moderation in spending during the summer as a result of the rising cost of living,” Elliot told the Canadian Press. He said the survey identified food costs, labour costs and shortages, and supply disruptions as the greatest challenges facing restaurant operators.

Meanwhile, Restaurants Canada’s REACT Survey found that 26 per cent of Canadians said they would dine out less often in June at a full-service restaurant, deterred by rising prices, compared to 18 per cent that said they expect to dine out more often. Similarly, 24 per cent of Canadians said they expect to dine out less at a quick-service restaurant in June compared to 11 per cent that would order more often.

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