This summer make or break for many restaurants across Canada

Patio season key 'go time'

Patio season is back – and local restaurants are "ready to rock for the summer."

"You have to work hard in the restaurant business. In reality, this is true for all businesses. It is all about having a team that is full of energy and enthusiasm," says Katie Dahl of Wings Vernon and the 1516 Pub & Grill.

With two of Vernon's biggest patios, summer is go time, when the majority of the year's profits are made.

Restaurants across Canada are "in crisis" and still fighting for survival, the Restaurant Canada Association, which represents 30,000 businesses countrywide, recently stated.

Restaurants Canada says members face the "triple whammy" of inflation, labour shortages, and COVID-19 loan repayments.

"We're in this post-pandemic hangover phase," said Mark von Schellwitz, vice-president of the group's Western Canada division. "It's been really difficult to get back to normal."

Bankruptcy filings in food services have spiked 116% since 2022, the group says, and about half of all restaurants are unprofitable, compared to only 12% before the pandemic.

One-quarter of members worry they won't be able to survive another year.

"We do know that a number of small businesses are feeling the impact," B.C. Jobs Minister Brenda Bailey said recently.

That can mean changing business model to survive. For Dahl, that means going hard after the patio business.

"Also, finding the right leaders is key to success. We have the best in the business," she says confidently.

A tightrope for restaurants is balancing menu prices with inflationary pressures while not hiking prices so much it pushes away customers who are also feeling the pinch.

While overall costs have come down from recent record highs, food prices are still staying at eye-watering levels, says Dahl. Grocery prices increased by 9.1% in April.

Restaurants Canada has called on the federal government to extend the CEBA repayment deadline.

The program offered interest-free loans of up to $60,000, and the deadline to repay is Dec. 31. Repaying early results in loan forgiveness of up to 33%.

The group has proposed a 36-month repayment schedule, where every six months, businesses lose five per cent of the forgivable portion.

But, time is a factor, as it has asked government to respond by the end of the month because House of Commons rises for the summer on June 23.

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