Opinion: These are the desperate measures Burnaby restaurants take to survive right now

Chris Campbell

As the new wave of COVID-19 cases rolls through Burnaby and the rest of Metro Vancouver, the situation is getting more desperate for local businesses trying to stay afloat.

I’ve spoken to a number of business owners during the past six months about the situation, especially with restaurant staff and owners.

Let me lay out the steps – also known as desperate measures - restaurants are taking to reassure customers that takeout and in-person dining is safe, and to financially keep the lights on.

One owner, in particular, listed the following things needed to just get to this point.

All staff wearing masks and/or face shields, as well as gloves and the placement of hand-sanitizer machines all over the eatery (at a high cost to the owner, with no PPE fee charged to customers).

Install Plexiglass shields at all tables.

Paying serving and cooking staff extra to help make up for the loss in tips due to a drop in customers.

Negotiating (“begging” was a common word used by several owners) with the landlord for either a break on the rent or a deferment.

Negotiating (again, the word “begging” was used) with the landlord to get them to apply for the federal rent subsidy program. (Many landlords are not applying for this program because, well, I’m not really sure what the logic is.)

Applying for and securing a new line of credit from the bank to help during those weeks when business suddenly disappears. Many restaurant owners say they see a correlation between days with high numbers of COVID-19 cases announced by Dr. Bonnie Henry and slow nights.

Applying for the federal wage subsidy to help keep staff on.

Making the tough decision to drop lunch from their menus. Many independent restaurants have seen lunch crowds dwindle to nothing so they only open around 4 or 5 p.m.

piva new westminster
Restaurant staff with PPE. - Cornelia Naylor photo

Cut back on the number of days open. Many owners tell me Thursday to Saturday is where the only real money is made so some are cutting out Sundays, Mondays and even Tuesdays. Fridays and Saturdays, especially, are where the money is being made and that requires deft handling because sometimes there are too many customers wanting to come in and eat and there are limits to the number of customers allowed.

Imagine having to turn someone away on a Friday night when some of the other days in your restaurant are like a ghost town.

"And even with all of these things that we've done, we're still losing money each month," the owner told me. "How long can we can keep this up? I don't know."

On Aug. 26, the Canadian Survey on Business Conditions (CSBC), produced by Statistics Canada with support from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, found that 31% of these businesses will only able to remain operational for up to 90 days with distancing measures in effect. In other words, up to a whopping 60% of the industry could fail within three months.

Report author Harrison Ruess, Public Affairs Officer for the CCC, notes that the figures are particularly concerning since, "83% of businesses in the accommodation and food services industries temporarily closed and two-thirds were forced to lay off some staff due to COVID. According to Restaurants Canada, the food service industry lost 800,000 jobs."

Like I said, desperate times. 

  • With files from Elana Shepert, Vancouver is Awesome

Follow Chris Campbell on Twitter @shinebox44.

© Burnaby Now

Popular Burnaby Now