Scot McTaggart, the owner and operator of Fusion Grill, who said he'd have to "dig deep" to decide whether or not to stay in business if a third wave of COVID-19 prompts another lockdown, is photographed in his restaurant in Winnipeg on Wednesday, March 17, 2021. Restaurants Canada said more than 10,000 eateries have permanently closed since the introduction of pandemic lockdowns. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Restaurants in the 3rd wave: “The question isn’t can you survive but do you want to”

Restaurant operators are calling the threat of a third wave of COVID-19 a “do-or-die moment” for the food service industry as it faces another potential round of restrictions.

Health officials across the country are warning of rising infections amid the increasing prevalence of novel coronavirus variants.

For some restaurants, another lockdown could force them to close their doors for good, said James Rilett, vice-president of Central Canada for Restaurants Canada.

“To open and close again, it costs about $30,000 for the average restaurant in lost product, lost shifts and things they have to pay for to get open, and lost investments once they close again,” he said.

“If you haven’t been open long enough to make up that money, then you’re just getting further in the hole.”

Canada has already lost more than 10,000 eateries since the introduction of pandemic lockdowns and more could follow if a third wave prompts renewed lockdowns, the industry group has said.

“We’ve been locked down longer than we’ve been open,” said Erin Gamelin, owner of Toronto pubs Louis Cifer Brew Works on Danforth Ave. and Stout Irish Pub in Cabbagetown.

“We’ve been closed on St. Patrick’s Day for two years in a row and our Cabbagetown location is only open to keep our key staff members employed.”

The restaurant industry has been “vilified” by governments, she said, which drives customers away even when they’re open.

“If they allow us to reopen but tell people to stay home because it’s not safe then we’re dead in the water,” Gamelin said.

Her concerns are echoed by Scot McTaggart, the owner and operator of Fusion Grill in Winnipeg, who said opening and closing his restaurant takes a huge toll.

He said he’d have to “dig deep” to decide whether or not to stay in business if a new lockdown is introduced.

“It would be a do-or-die moment,” McTaggart said. “I would have to take a serious look at how hard I’ve worked over the last year to barely break even and decide whether I want to cash in another RRSP or just call it quits.”

The restaurateur said his sales are down 60 to 80 per cent, but he’s working 60 to 80 per cent more, even becoming a delivery driver for his upscale eatery.

Despite the promise of the coming patio season and ongoing vaccine rollout, he said many restaurant operators are exhausted after a year of struggling to stay afloat.

“We’re surviving but there’s an increasing weariness that’s starting to show,” McTaggart said. “If there’s a third wave, the question isn’t can you survive but do you want to.”

Yet it’s not just the financial or “hard costs” of lost inventory, he said.

“The biggest and most substantial cost is losing staff,” McTaggart said. “Our industry is losing valuable players, we’re seeing skilled people leave and that brain trust is gone.”

Meanwhile, he said the weeks and months following a lockdown are almost harder than the lockdown itself as the market slowly regains confidence.

Strict capacity restrictions, such as keeping occupancy at 25 per cent, and other rules such as in-person dining only among people from the same household has also created what he called a “purgatory.”

“When we reopen after a shutdown, people aren’t lining up outside to get a table,” McTaggart said. “People are hesitant to dine in, and yet online orders slow down because people think we’re open and doing better. But we’re really just in limbo.”

He added: “Last Tuesday, we had zero tables and zero takeout and delivery orders. On Wednesday, we had zero tables and one takeout order. I’m not proud of it but that’s the reality right now.”

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

Just Posted

Kids at Lotsa’Tots West Day Care in Red Deer act out how a caterpillar moves with co-owner and instructor Shireen Sewcharran-Wiebe. Child care providers are hoping Alberta’s provincial government will help fund the national child care program announced this week. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).
Alberta day care providers hope Alberta will get onboard with national child care program

Some question whether the UCP’s ideology will stand in the way

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney shakes hands with Jason Nixon, minister of Environment and Parks after being sworn into office, in Edmonton on Tuesday April 30, 2019. Town council from the largest municipality in Nixon's constituency is concerned over the province's consultation plans for open-pit coal mining in the Rocky Mountains. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Town of Rocky Mountain House wants better coal consultation

ROCKY MOUNTAIN HOUSE, Alta. — Town council from the largest municipality in… Continue reading

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange was in Red Deer on Friday to provide an update on the province's COVID-19 response in schools.
Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Alberta government aiming for more financial literacy learning in junior and senior high schools

Government providing grants to organizations who will help design financial literacy programming

Two roundabouts will be built at each end of the Highway 2 and McKenzie Road overpass in Red Deer County at the south end of Gasoline Alley. Major detours will be in place this summer while construction is underway. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Powerline work causes delays on Highway 2 in Red Deer

Southbound drivers on the QEII are experiencing delays Wednesday morning. Powerline work… Continue reading

Ponoka RCMP said Traytyn Okeymow, 22, was last seen at this residence at about 9:45 p.m. on April 4. (Photo contributed)
Missing man located by Ponoka RCMP

Ponoka RCMP seek public’s help

A vial of the Medicago vaccine sits on a surface. CARe Clinic, located in Red Deer, has been selected to participate in the third phase of vaccine study. (Photo courtesy
Red Deer clinical research centre participating in plant-based COVID-19 vaccine trial

A Red Deer research centre has been selected to participate in the… Continue reading

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks at a television screen as he listens to United States President Joe Biden deliver a statement during a virtual joint statement following a virtual meeting in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘We hope to help a little more’: Biden says he spoke to Trudeau about more vaccines

WASHINGTON — Canada can look forward to an unexpected shot in the… Continue reading

The Mission Correctional Institution in Mission, B.C. is pictured Tuesday, April 14, 2020. A new federal study found that people released from prison were much more likely than the general population to have trouble finding gainful employment, even over a decade after returning to society. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Ease employment hurdles for former prison inmates, federal study urges

OTTAWA — A new federal study found that people released from prison… Continue reading

Governor of the Bank of Canada Tiff Macklem holds a press conference at the Bank Of Canada in Ottawa on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Bank of Canada keeps rate on hold, sees brighter economic outlook

OTTAWA — The Bank of Canada is keeping its key interest rate… Continue reading

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, Friday, January 15, 2021 in Ottawa. Tam says new information on COVID-19 and variants prompted the National Advisory Committee on Immunization to suddenly cancel its planned update on who should get the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
AstraZeneca advice from national panel delayed by new data on COVID-19 and variants

OTTAWA — Canada’s chief public health officer says new information on COVID-19… Continue reading

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks at a television screen as he listens to United States President Joe Biden deliver a statement during a virtual joint statement following a virtual meeting in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pressured to adopt tougher emissions target for Biden climate summit

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is under pressure to step up… Continue reading

Passengers from Air India flight 187 from New Delhi wait for their transportation to quarantine after arriving at Pearson Airport in Toronto on Wednesday, April 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
ICU pressures mount as COVID fells younger people; Ottawa mulls India travel ban

TORONTO — Amid mounting pressures on critical care in hospitals and concerns… Continue reading

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland delivers the federal budget in the House of Commons as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on in Ottawa on Monday April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Three confidence votes to determine fate of minority Liberal government

OTTAWA — A pair of proposed changes to the federal budget put… Continue reading

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland talks with parents during a virtual discussion on child care in Ottawa, Wednesday, April 21, 2021. Freeland is calling for patience and “flexibility” in response to questions about the government’s criteria for reopening the economy and border. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Freeland urges patience as business looks for answers on reopening border, economy

OTTAWA — Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland is urging Canadian companies to… Continue reading

Most Read