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

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

Just Posted

Two volunteers work to sieve a sample of sand and ocean water through a filter, capturing any potential microplastics. (Courtesy of Ocean Diagnostics)
Victoria startup making waves in microplastics research

New products from Ocean Diagnostics will make research faster, more affordable

Willows Beach in Oak Bay. (Black Press Media file photo)
Seven days of sun set to shine on Greater Victoria

Special weather statement warns of higher than usual temperatures

Chef Trevor Randle leads a June 21 online cooking featuring recipes – beef zesty lettuce wraps, blueberry strudel and blueberry spritzer. (Courtesy We Heart Local BC)
Free online cooking course explores B.C. blueberries and beef

Chef Trevor Randle calls them the province’s most flavourful foods

Shaelyn Sinnott of Oak Bay Volunteer Services delivers groceries for client Irene Kenny. The organization has kept up delivery of food and medication throughout all phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy Oak Bay Volunteer Services)
Oak Bay volunteers keep critical services running

Duo drove between Oak Bay and Jubilee three days a week, twice a day during pandemic

Al Kohut, owner of the new photographers GALLERY, checks out Looking Back by David Bradt. The photo printed on canvas is among 50 images featured in the Birds on the Wild Side exhibition showing until July 3. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Photo gallery in Sidney plucks out top bird photos

Birds on the Wild Side show running at the new photographers GALLERY until July 3

Jesse Roper tackles weeds in his garden to kick off the 2021 season of What’s In My Garden Man? (YouTube/Whats In My Garden)
VIDEO: Metchosin singer-songwriter Jesse Roper invites gardeners into his plot

What’s In My Garden, Man? kicks off with the poop on compost

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

A Lotto 6/49 ticket purchased in Parksville for the June 19, 2021 draw is a $3M winner. (Submitted photo)
Winning Lotto 6/49 ticket worth $3M purchased on Vancouver Island

Lottery prize winners have 52 weeks to claim jackpot

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Most Read