A busy lunch is winding down at The Ruby restaurant in downtown Victoria, where staff is carefully preparing the last few meals going out to waiting customers.
But every day is a challenge for the province’s thousands of restaurants, including popular, busy ones like The Ruby, according to owner Chris Jones.
“The reality of the cost of wages, the cost of food, and all the other things that are hidden costs in our business add up,” Jones told CHEK News Tuesday.
“We’re happy to be in a break-even environment right now.”
A new Save BC Restaurants campaign launched by the British Columbia Restaurant and Foodservices Association (BCRFA) and Restaurants Canada aims to raise awareness of the challenges facing food service and hospitality businesses.
Ian Tostenson, BCRFA president and CEO, says the campaign is being launched as many businesses struggle to keep their doors open.
“This industry has never recovered from the pandemic, ever. And it was hardest hit during the pandemic. But we continue to get pile-on by all sorts of governments, and ministries do different things,” Tostenson said.
According to the two groups, 50 per cent of food service and hospitality businesses in B.C. are losing money, and bankruptcies are up 40 per cent over the past 10 months.
So, raising awareness of the tough times the industry is facing is vital.
Calen McNeil, co-owner of Big Wheel Burger and Zambris, said that food costs have, in some cases, doubled or even tripled since the pandemic.
“We’re always under pressure in the restaurant industry to raise prices, which we then get pushback from the customers. It’s a difficult situation. So any advocacy is good,” McNeil said.
The campaign comes on the heels of the Jan. 18 deadline for Canadian businesses to repay federal pandemic-related loans in order to receive partial forgiveness.
It’s asking for a range of policy changes from municipalities and the province, including streamlining approvals for patios and liquor licenses and creating a ministry of hospitality.
“I think it’s fantastic to be raising awareness for all the challenges the restaurants are facing right now,” Jones said.
According to BCRFA and Restaurants Canada, more than 15,000 restaurants operate in B.C., employing 185,000 workers.
The two organizations are hosting a virtual town hall meeting with restaurants and elected officials on Wednesday.