The pandemic has deeply affected many businesses around the province. The restaurant industry in Quebec has been a point of conversation since Canada's COVID-19 lockdowns started back in March. As the months go on, we hear of more and more of our favourite spots being forced to shut their doors forever.
We spoke to François Meunier, Vice President of the Association Restauration Québec (ARQ), to learn more about the ARQ's thoughts on the government's handling of pandemic-related measures with regards to the restaurant industry, especially with the latest lockdown measures and curfew.
Answers have been translated from French and edited for clarity.
What are the ARQ's thoughts on restaurant closures that were supposed to end in October, but have now been extended to February?
The dining rooms had to close for a second time on October 1 at the beginning of what has been called the second wave. Due to the increasing number of COVID cases from week-to-week and month-to-month, the closure has been repeated every month since.
We were hopeful, particularly with the cancellation of the Christmas holidays and the closure of non-essential businesses during this period, that we could consider reopening in early 2021. However, the surge in cases in the last two weeks and now the complete confinement of Quebec until February 8 means the restaurant industry faces a new delay to our reopening.
Our industry has already made immense sacrifices. Six billion dollars in sales have been lost in 2020. Keeping us closed for weeks, even months is not an option. It is not economically or socially sustainable.
Will the exception allowing restaurants to operate during curfew hours help these small businesses?
Yes, but only delivery sales will be allowed during curfew, which highlights the problem of prohibitive commissions charged by delivery giants.
Because grocery stores and convenience stores will be required to close at 7:30 p.m., we're also pleased that restaurants will be the only businesses allowed to sell wine and beer on curfew nights from 8:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. with the food they prepare.
Will this help? It won't hurt, that's for sure, but it will still take more help from governments, especially the Quebec government, to ensure our survival, because the crisis is far from over, unfortunately.
What should be, according to the ARQ, the next step the government could take to help these local restaurants?
Once the second wave is under control, we will have to quickly tackle the development of a dining room reopening plan, a structured and measured plan that will include direct assistance, not loans, because the assistance granted today by the Quebec government is insufficient and inadequate for companies deprived of their revenues for as long as the restaurants have been and still are.
In the short term, we are asking the Quebec government to regulate the commissions demanded from restaurateurs by the delivery giants (Uber Eats, DoorDash, Skip The Dishes). These commissions, generally 30%, should be capped at 15%. In Canada, Ontario and British Columbia have already taken steps in this direction. In the United States, cities such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco have done so.
Programs already in place, such as the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy, and the Assistance for Businesses in High Alert Regions, will have to be maintained as long as possible for a sector like ours.