Higher prices on the menu as restaurants open doors

As restaurants across the capital reopen to reduced seating and higher costs for food and pandemic safety, some diners will have to brace for higher bills — either immediately or in the near future.

Ian Tostenson, chief executive of the B.C. Restaurant and Food Association, said Tuesday that thousands of restaurants across the provinces are wrestling with startup costs while being able to use just half their seats. He said some will choose to raise the prices or add gratuities or other fees to ease financial pressures.

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“I think everyone is evaluating; there’s no question it’s expensive to restart,” said Tostenson. “They will have to work out what their margins are with higher costs and at 50 per cent capacity. In order to keep the doors open they have to offset costs. They’ve also been paying rent with no income.”

Cliff Leir, who operates Fol Epi organic bakery at Dockside Green and Agrius Restaurant downtown, has increased prices by about 25 per cent and is eliminating tipping. He said the decision was made to better support staff and local suppliers.

“Producing food with great ingredients and paying our staff appropriately comes at a cost,” Leir said. “We believe that we have to support and invest in our local food economy if we want to keep it alive and healthy.

“We feel that it is our duty in this time of crisis to to purchase from our neighbours and local businesses as this is what will contribute to the betterment of our local economy.”

Shelly Gudgeon, owner of Il Terrazzo Ristorante downtown, is preparing for a soft opening today and is taking reservations for Thursday.

She said the restaurant had to eliminate its lunch service and seating capacity will be reduced by half. The upside, she said, is there won’t be any immediate price increases and they’ve added a new 14-seat patio on the Waddington Alley entrance. “We hope to rebuild our business one customer at a time.”

She said expenses are rising, and “three or four months from now, we could see modest increases [to customers]. But we’re hoping customers will have a dessert, or a more expensive bottle of wine, or bring their neighbour for dinner. We want to make up [for our increased costs] that way.”

At Brown’s Social House and Bar downtown, assistant manager Cody Miller said no extra charges or fees are being added to bills. He said the restaurant, which usually seats 130 inside and 30 on the patio, is operating at half capacity, with about 25 staff. “We’re just happy to have our guests back at this point, so we are not charging anything extra.”

The Local on Wharf Street has added an 18 per cent gratuity to bills since opening last week.

“There’s no rule book here,” said Tostenson. “A lot of restaurants are just trying to figure things out at this point.”

He has a lot of faith in diners who have been staying home during the lockdown and will start to visit restaurants again. “The public is generous in moments like this,” said Tostenson. “I think they like to support local restaurants and will help to take care of them.”

Meanwhile, many other service-based industries have been adding fees to their bills.

Several salons and barbers told the Times Colonist last week customers can expect to see extras on their bills for costs of sanitizing and other pandemic safety measures.

Customers at Hatz Hair Studio in North Vancouver will see a $5 charge to help offset costs associated with operating during the pandemic.

The hair salon is among retailers adding a COVID-19 surcharge, which can range from a few dollars to a percentage of the final bill.

Zazou Salon & Academy in North Vancouver charges $7.55. It calculated its charge by accounting for the revenue it expects to lose by reducing its capacity from 19 chairs to nine, as well as reopening costs such as team training and signage.

The salon preferred to be transparent with customers via the surcharge, rather than hide the added cost of business within a broad price increase, said Janine Cannon, concierge and marketing manager at Zazou.

“We see it as something that’s a temporary thing,” she said.

— with files from the Canadian Press

dkloster@timescolonist.com

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