A woman wears a protective face mask as she walks past a opened restaurant patio on Granville Street in Vancouver, Wednesday, May 20, 2020. The pandemic may serve as an opportunity for the restaurant industry to innovate in order to avoid closures as public health measures limit the sale of booze and erode already thin profit margins, say addiction and business experts. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Focus on innovation, not alcohol, key to survival for restaurants: experts

Restaurants and bars have fought the restriction of a 10 p.m. stop on alcohol sales in British Columbia

The pandemic may serve as an opportunity for the restaurant industry to innovate in order to avoid closures as public health measures limit the sale of booze and erode already thin profit margins, say addiction and business experts.

Dr. Rupi Brar said the industry has a chance to pivot in ways that satisfy consumer demand while considering its heavy dependence on high markups on alcohol as well as the negative consequences associated with it.

“We know that the production and marketing and distribution of alcohol does create employment and generate income, but the question is, at what cost?” said Brar, an addiction medicine specialist and consultant in substance use disorders at St. Paul’s and Surrey Memorial hospitals in Metro Vancouver.

She said harms related to alcohol use amount to about $14 billion a year, including for health care.

Restaurants and bars have fought the restriction of a 10 p.m. stop on alcohol sales in British Columbia and similar limits elsewhere in the country, but many have come up with new ways to make money and keep much of their staff employed.

Brar said she and her colleagues nationally have noticed a sharp spike in alcohol consumption during the pandemic, with some of it related to anxiety, including among people who have returned to drinking after years of abstinence.

“There’s no better time than now to really start to think about ways that we can mitigate these harms but still be able to provide access to alcohol,” she said.

Tim Stockwell, scientist at the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria, said alcohol sales at liquor stores have already been maintained as an essential service but provincial health officers’ decisions to limit sales hours at bars and restaurants are justified.

“It’s a complex argument and a balance is needed,” he said of the economic and health factors linked to alcohol. “Bars are like petri dishes for the spread of this virus. Alcohol policy needs to be a priority to protect our public health and safety.

“Clearly, businesses will suffer. It is a reality and they do need sympathy. But it shouldn’t be at the expense of compromising the health of the population and continuing to place a burden, an unnecessary burden, on the health-care system.”

Stockwell said the centre has received funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada to collect alcohol sales data during the pandemic to determine whether consumption from liquor stores and premises including bars and restaurants has fluctuated based on various measures across the country.

Targeted restrictions of alcohol sales may be needed in order to preserve businesses that are financially suffering, he said.

“We have to have a suite of policies that have overall beneficial effects of reducing viral spread and protecting precious health-care resources.”

READ MORE: B.C. to shut down nightclubs, banquet halls; limit late-night alcohol sales at bars

Mark von Schellwitz, vice-president of Restaurants Canada for the western region, said he agrees with Ontario and Quebec’s regulations to limit alcohol sales only in areas where COVID-19 cases are increasing.

He said a similar policy should be adopted in B.C., where Dr. Bonnie Henry has resisted that move and closed nightclubs and banquet halls in early September as COVID-19 cases started rising.

“Some of our members are saying, ‘Why can’t we have a targeted approach by region as well?’ ” he said.

Von Schellwitz said that unlike parties and other gatherings that may account for the spread of the disease, bars and restaurants offer a controlled, safe environment where staff are trained to follow pandemic regulations, such as physical distancing.

Limitations on the number of diners in establishments have forced the industry to innovate in several ways including selling meal kits of raw ingredients, establishing so-called ghost kitchens where meals are cooked and delivered and creating more patio dining, he said.

While takeout delivery has also increased, costs of up to 35 per cent from third-party apps have been a big concern, von Schellwitz added.

“Whether you’re located in Alberta, Ontario, B.C., all restauranteurs are doing whatever they can to help their particular business survive,” he said.

READ MORE: Nightclub closures, liquor sale limits a ‘punch in the gut,’ B.C. industry group says

The industry wants the B.C. government to permanently continue pandemic-related policies, such as the wholesale pricing of alcohol for licensed establishments and allowing alcohol sales with delivery orders.

The B.C. New Democrats promised to keep both changes in the release of its election platform on Tuesday.

Prof. Jarrett Vaughan, who specializes in the hospitality industry at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder school of business, said innovation during and after the pandemic will be key for the restaurant industry, which already has a high failure rate.

Some establishments have previously tried to generate revenue by increasing the cost of particular drinks based on high demand on a given evening, he said, adding that pricing model has not become widespread though it illustrates a focus on alcohol as a moneymaker.

The service offered by restaurants is the draw for diners, who may be keen to gradually return for that experience rather than other innovations, Vaughan said.

“By and large, when you offer a service, it’s really the personal touch that people are looking for. And that is a very difficult thing to innovate beyond because you can’t take the human element of out of it. And the human element is very expensive.”

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusFood & Dining

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Victoria police are asking for people's help identifying the suspect of a sexual assault that occurred early Oct. 29. (Black Press Media file photo)
VicPD searching for suspect in sexual assault incident

A woman was sexually assaulted at the 800-block of Cormorant Street just before 4 a.m. Oct. 29

Artists, activists and supporters stand at the ‘More Justice, More Peace’ mural in Victoria’s Bastion Square after the letter ‘S’ was painted over in black. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
ACAB removed from Victoria’s More Justice, More Peace mural

New message points to VicPD, City of Victoria for silencing BIPOC voices

Sooke’s Paul Larouche gold snipes along Sooke River, a process in which he uses a mask and snorkel to find pieces of gold. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
Hitting the jackpot: Sooke man finds niche audience by gold-panning on YouTube

Paul Larouche, 29, with over 215,000 subscribers, opens up about his journey

Retiring local politicians Carole James and Andrew Weaver will receive annual payouts estimated at $87,000 and $34,000, respectively, under the pension plan for outgoing MLAs in B.C., according to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. (Black Press Media file photos)
Taxpayer watchdog howling over outgoing MLAs’ pension payouts

Carole James, Andrew Weaver among Island MLAs whose pensions are calculated by taxpayers federation

An incident on Sooke Road is slowing traffic Wednesday evening. (Courtesy of Mona Hazeldine)
Second driver not found after Sooke Road crash snarls evening traffic

Two vehicles involved in rear-end crash Wednesday evening

Burnaby RCMP responded to a dine-and-dash suspect who fell through a ceiling in March 2020. (RCMP handout)
VIDEO: Suspected dine-and-dasher falls through ceiling of Burnaby restaurant

A woman believed to be dashing on her restaurant bill fell through the kitchen ceiling

Hirdeypal Batth, 24, has been charged with sexual assault and forcible confinement in relation to an incident in August 2020. (VPD handout)
Man, 24, charged with sex assault after allegedly posing as fake Uber driver in Vancouver

Investigators believe there could be more victims outside of the Vancouver area

President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Allentown, Pa. on Oct. 26. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
POLL: How closely are you following the U.S. presidential election?

It may feel like it’s been going on forever but the U.S.… Continue reading

Pilot Kevin Maher participated in a flyover of a ceremony at the Cobble Hill cenotaph on Oct. 22 in a 1940 North American (Noorduyn) Harvard aircraft. (Robert Barron/Citizen)
Cobble Hill remembers lost military members with ceremony, flyover

Annual event commemorates those who died in non-combat roles

Adam Ireton holds his son Weston, along with Kristen and Beckett as they celebrate Weston's last day of treatment for lukemia. (Kristen Ireton photo)
799 days: ‘Super’ Weston defeats cancer

‘Weston is disease-free now, so we will be going into a period of checkups and things until he’s 18’

B.C. Premier John Horgan and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee arrive for annual Cascadia conference in Vancouver, Oct. 10, 2018. They have agreed to coordinate the permanent switch to daylight saving time. (B.C. government)
B.C. still awaiting U.S. approval to eliminate daylight saving time

Clocks going back one hour Nov. 1 in Washington too

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Oct. 27

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with US Vice-President Joe Biden on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, December 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
A Biden presidency could mean good news for Canadian environment policy: observers

Experts and observers say even a U.S. outside the Paris agreement may ultimately end up in the same place

People take a photo together during the opening night of Christmas Lights Across Canada, in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. The likelihood that most Canadians will enjoy a holly jolly Christmas season of gatherings, caroling and travel is unlikely, say public health experts who encourage those who revel in holiday traditions to accept more sacrifices ahead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Ho, ho, no: Experts advise preparing for a scaled-back COVID holiday season

Many of the holiday season’s highlights have already been scrapped or are unlikely to take place

Most Read