Restaurant industry tackles taxes, transportation, staffing issues

With over 14,000 restaurants, bars and caterers and 180,000 employees, our industry plays a vital role every day in the lives of the people of B.C.

According to Restaurants Canada research, our sector represents 5% of B.C.’s gross domestic product and 7.3% of the workforce. There are more than 3.4 million visits daily to B.C. restaurants. Restaurants purchase over $5 billion in food and beverage products each year and contribute close to $280 million annually to charity.

Those figures don’t begin to track the number of jobs and the amount of money spent at businesses reliant on restaurants. Cleaners, laundries, printers, equipment suppliers, food and beverage suppliers and even government jobs such as liquor licensing all rely on the restaurant industry. Restaurants are where people celebrate, make new friends, nourish on the go and cement business deals, all while enjoying the incredible abundance of food and beverages made and grown in B.C.

Running a resturant is no easy feat. The industry is heavily regulated by all levels of government. Shifting customer preferences and tastes and new competitive forces such as home and office delivery and pickup are all daily challenges.

Government regulations and bylaws directly affect restaurants on issues such as health, fire, workplace safety, labour practices, human rights, patios, noise, parking, building code, liquor liability, liquor serving/purchasing, public safety, entertainment, environment, rising property taxes, labour costs and nutrition requirements.

At the same time, property taxes are eroding any chance of improving restaurant revenue. Even though restaurants seldom own the property, rental agreements usually require the tenant to pay the taxes. A restaurant on Alberni Street had to relocate because the $125,000 in property taxes a year was no longer manageable. A restaurant on West Broadway must pay $350,000 per year in property taxes. Combine these staggering costs with myriad regulatory costs and you get what my colleague from Restaurants Canada calls “death by a thousand cuts.”

The labour shortage affects all industries in B.C., but none more severely than restaurants. A recent study by the British Columbia Restaurant and Food Services Association (BCRFA) indicates a shortage as high as 25,000 workers in our sector. Another study shows that for every three people retiring, only two people enter the workforce. By 2025, B.C. will need 900,000 new workers; 600,000 will come from young people entering the workforce. About 300,000 must come from immigration. To encourage and support this immigration and to support our industry, the BCRFA entered into an agreement – the first of its kind in Canada – with El Salvador, to supply qualified and trained workers to immigrate and integrate into our industry. This agreement will provide English-speaking, skilled, trained culinary workers to our B.C. restaurant industry. Those workers will be well paid and well treated by their host employers. Many will remain, legally, in Canada to provide a much-needed boost to our workforce.

Looking ahead, we must understand the needs and wants of our consumer. To help our industry survive, governments must allow for much-needed services such as ride sharing for the convenience and safety of our staff and guests. It is not rocket science to realize that most metropolitan housing is too expensive for restaurant workers – they live in the suburbs, but there is no transit available when they end their evening shifts or start their morning shifts. Restaurant guests are acutely aware of zero tolerance for alcohol and cannabis consumption and driving. They want readily available and safe transportation. There is no transit to get our guests home safely after a certain hour. Taxis are usually unavailable without hours of wait time.

Most restaurants work hard to comply with regulations. The BCRFA puts a significant amount of resources toward teaching its members the staggering number and complexities of the regulatory requirements they face. We look for a day when government recognizes businesses’ efforts to comply with regulations as opposed to subjecting those business to a regime of constant rotating inspections.

Next time you enjoy a meal in your favourite restaurant, give a moment of thought to the labyrinth of complexities behind the scenes. Your host or hostess is worrying about how to meet those challenges, but you won’t know it because you’ll be greeted with a gracious smile and genuine pleasure that you have chosen this restaurant with so many other places to choose from. The moment you walk through the door, the entire staff will work hard to give you a wonderful guest experience.

Every restaurant operator and all their staff are there because hospitality is their love and passion. On behalf of all restaurants in B.C., it is our honour to serve you. Thank you for your support. •

Ian Tostenson is president and CEO of the British Columbia Restaurant and Food Services Association.