Restaurants try to stay afloat as COVID-19 restrictions ease in Saskatchewan

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an effect on everyday life. That is particularly true for the foodservice industry, which has been hit hard throughout Canada and in Saskatchewan.

Restaurants Canada has proposed a survival package for restaurants to help recover 9,200 or a nearly quarter of the jobs in the Saskatchewan restaurant sector.

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Restaurants Canada Western Canada president Mark von Schellwitz says pre-COVID-19, the industry provided the third-highest source of private-sector jobs at roughly 39,000 jobs as well as providing $2.4 billion for the economy.

“Restaurants are a really important component of feeding Saskatchewan’s recovery,” he said.

“We are an important sector, but first we need to survive. If subsidies are being scaled back too soon, they won’t have the working capital they need to transition from survival to revival.”

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Restaurants Canada says the support package is asking for a number of measures including tax credits to cover COVID-19 health and safety expenditures, forgiveness for all government-related loans and extending application deadlines for any existing programs.

Taste Hospitality Group co-owner Carmen Hamm says that while many restaurants in Saskatchewan were not hit as hard with lengthy periods of COVID-19 restrictions as other parts of the country, any extended lockdown can harm a business.

“Even having to lock down for two weeks, there is so much (food) waste, money that you just get back.”

Hamm added that through intuitive thinking, many restaurants did not have to clean house and lay off staff.

“Our take-out and pick-up (delivery) business has been really quite strong. We aren’t at the same business level as before but it has allowed us to keep as many staff that wanted to continue working.”

Schellwitz says many restaurants weren’t as lucky as they consistently lost money and continue to lose money during the pandemic.

“This emergency support is crucial in the short term for (restaurants) that wait for restrictions to be lifted so they can start to recover,” Schellwitz said.

“Saskatchewan doesn’t have such hard-hitting restrictions compared to Ontario or Alberta.”

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Schellwitz said the last thing he wants to see is a restaurant having to close its doors for good.

Hamm said that as restrictions begin to lift, it could take months, or potentially longer, for restaurants to return to profit and reach an income level to pay off any debts.

“That still means there needs to be that cash flow and consumer confidence,” Hamm said.

“People (need to) feel comfortable going out again. We are expecting people to reframe what they have been told for the last 15 months with the way they are thinking and the way they live their lives.”

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Picaro, Cohen’s, and Una are all restaurants in Saskatoon that Hamm operates.

Hamm suggests that as an alternative to a straight-up payoff format with the survival package, there could be a temporary forgiveness period on essential aspects of everyday operations.

“Our hope is that instead of money flowing out, we would see some costs lowered,” flagging utilities and liquor as examples of items whose prices could be lowered.

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Hamm told Global News there aren’t wholesale prices similar to places in Alberta, and businesses pay the same as what the average person does.

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COVID-19: Restrictions at restaurants, bars loosen as part of Saskatchewan’s Step 1 reopening roadmap

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