From the Editor: Tough decisions
Colleen CrossCOVID-19 Updates Features Business and Operations Finance Health & Safety
Reopening dining rooms amid vaccine passport/certificate mandates taking hold in most provinces is proving to be a huge source of stress for pizzeria and other restaurant operators across Canada.
Add to that a highly competitive labour market and you get one tense situation.
When COVID hit there was a general feeling we were all in this together, united in our worry and uncertainty about the future. It now feels as if Canadians are divided, in some cases at war, and lately restaurants seem the battleground of choice.
Operators seem to be taking one of three approaches:
- Follow the government order and train staff to ask for proof of vaccination from those dining inside.
- Openly defy the order, as some business owners have done through groups like “Ontario Businesses Against Health Pass.”
- Close your dine-in area or decide not to reopen it to avoid the appearance of discrimination.
There are strong feelings about all of these approaches and there are several factors at play: frontline staff who are not always qualified nor emotionally equipped to deal with disgruntled patrons, a lack of staff available to monitor the door, the fact that these measures disproportionately affect small businesses as opposed to grocery and big-box stores, the definition of “essential” and the notion of restaurant dining as a privilege versus a right.
Whatever your opinion, we know these are tough decisions to make. They affect your livelihood, your relationships, your peace of mind and your sense of self. Many of you are choosing that option 3 – to keep operating as takeout/delivery only with no dining room. While this may seem like the lesser evil – and even a creative solution – it won’t work for restaurants that rely heavily on dine-in sales. Even for those that have strong off-premise sales it may not work forever, rents and overhead expenses being what they are. It is a practical workaround that is temporary at best.
It’s no wonder expressions like “rock and a hard place” and “gun to our heads” are being thrown around.
Many of you got into hospitality to create a Cheers-like atmosphere “where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.” To be inclusive. Restaurants are sometimes called “the third space” – a shared environment that promotes community. With that first space (home) and second space (office) melding into one for many people in 2020, restaurants seem more important, and more special, than ever.
In general, independent pizzerias have more operational freedom but fewer resources (financial and marketing). Franchises and chains have less freedom to break with policies and practices set by head office but more resources (financial and marketing).
It’s a form of catch-22: The good news is that independent pizzerias are able to make decisions for their business, act on them quickly and live with the consequences. The bad news is they feel pressured to make such difficult decisions in the first place.
Many of you feel backed into a corner without more advance notice and support from federal and provincial governments – governments that in the first year of the pandemic were pretty quick to open their chequebooks. This highly impacted industry needs continued consultation, planning and resources from government.
Restaurants Canada is advocating to government on your behalf on several fronts, including survival supports like an exemption from the scheduled phase-out of rent and wage subsidies for food service and tax credits to defray the high costs of COVID-19 health and safety expenditures.
The organization wants to see relaunch measures like an expansion of the current “meals and expenses” business tax credit to its original 100 per cent, a national dining rebate program and a culinary tourism incentive.
Check out RC’s excellent resources on its website, restaurantscanada.org, including employer and employee vaccination Q-and-A for food service and hospitality. From the beginning of the pandemic, they have made these available to members and non-members alike.
However you are handling indoor dining at your pizzeria, we know you are making a tough decision.
If that decision is based on fact and it allows you to sleep at night, it’s the right one. | CP
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