Ontario restaurants want Doug Ford to help foot the bill for 'abrupt' lockdowns

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A national foodservice advocacy group is calling on the Ontario government to, among other requests, help bars and restaurants recoup some of the lost revenue due to COVID-19 health and safety restrictions.

Restaurants Canada has been a vocal critic of the way Doug Ford’s government has handled restrictions during the pandemic--expressing frustration over what they perceive to be mixed messaging and unfair targeting of the foodservice industry.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” James Rilett, VP of the Central Canada region of Restaurants Canada told inthehammer.com last November. “I’ve asked [the provincial government] for data that shows restaurants are a major source of the spread of the virus.”

“They’ve told me, ‘yes, they are;’ but they can’t provide any data,” James continued. “We just want some proof--some kind of data. They haven’t been able to show me any.”

Restaurants Canada and the Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association issued an open letter to the premier Tuesday (Apr. 6),  claiming that last week's abrupt move to shut down all restaurant dining so soon after easing restrictions has cost Ontario's restaurant industry more than $100-million in reopening and closing costs alone.

The organizations are calling for:

  • Public health measures to be fair and effective, all industries must be impacted equally.
  • 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.
  • All restaurants should be supported financially to mitigate rising debt in the following ways:
    • Further funding through the Ontario Small Business Support Grant program and an amendment to the rules to ensure every foodservice establishment is able to receive funding.
    • A sector-specific program for covering reopening/closure costs such as wasted inventory, staffing costs, patio setup/takedown, etc.
    • An expansion of the property tax and energy cost rebate programs to include all foodservice businesses that have been impacted by Red-Control level restrictions.
    • An immediate end to the 6% markup that restaurants pay to buy alcohol from the LCBO.

"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. "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."

The Province announced last Thursday (Apr. 1) that, effective the following Monday, the province-wide “emergency brake” lockdown would prohibit indoor and outdoor dining. Restaurants, bars, and other food or drink establishments are only permitted to operate by takeout, drive-through, and delivery.

The province says it plans to evaluate the impact of the lockdown over the course of four weeks to determine if it is safe to lift any restrictions or if they need to be extended.

Photo caption: An empty patio outside of West Town in Hamilton, ONT (file/inthehammer)

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