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

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

Just Posted

Jordan Naterer, 25, was last seen Saturday Oct. 10. He planned a hike in the Manning Park area, and has not been seen since. Photo Facebook.
Family devastated as search for missing Manning Park hiker suspended

‘It was an extremely difficult meeting with the parents when we had to tell them.’

Advance voting is already underway in the 42nd general election in British Columbia. Election day is Oct. 24.(Black Press files photo)
QUIZ: Are you ready for the B.C. election?

Take this short test and see how much you know about elections and voting

Jordan Naterer, an electrical engineer from Vancouver, was last seen Saturday Oct. 10. Facebook photo.
‘Please pray for our son,’ says mother of missing hiker

Searchers continue efforts to find 25-year-old Vancouver man in Manning Park

(File photo)
BCCDC reports new COVID-19 case on Kelowna flight

WestJet flight 182 from Kelowna to Calgary had a case of COVID-19 on board Oct. 10

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a press conference during the COVID pandemic in Ottawa, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says provinces have to do more work to address racism in the health-care system. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
VIDEO: Provinces need to address racism in the health-care system, Trudeau says

Minister Miller said feds can use financial leverage over health care to fight anti-Indigenous racism

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
Smoke pours from abandoned Kelowna heritage building

The cause of the blaze remains unknown at this time

Vernon Fire Rescue Services and Vernon-North Okanagan RCMP were called to a report of an electrical fire at the temporary shelter operated by Turning Points Collaborative Society on 37th Street Sunday, Oct. 18, just before 5:30 p.m. A fire was discovered in the building’s attic, forcing the evacuation of temporary residents and staff. (Roger Knox - Morning Star)
Reported electrical fire evacuates Okanagan temporary shelter

No visible smoke or flame but Vernon firefighters discover small blaze in former warehouse’s attic

NDP candidate Toni Boot has had multiple campaign signs vandalized in Penticton. However, she doesn’t believe the vandalism is targeting a specific party or candidate, she told <em>Black Press Media </em>in an Oct. 17, 2020 interview. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Vandals target Penticton campaign signs

NDP candidate Toni Boot says she’s had multiple signs vandalized since the start of her campaign

FILE - Nathan Cullen speaks to media in Smithers, B.C., Friday, February 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan, Cullen apologize for NDP candidate’s comments about Haida candidate

Nathan Cullen had made insensitive comments about Roy Jones Jr. Cheexial

The view from Donald Bridge, looking east on Highway 1, about 28 km north of Golden at 11:50 a.m. Oct. 18. (DriveBC)
UPDATE: Expect delays on highway east of Revelstoke

A vehicle incident occurred near the Quartz Creek bridge

A winning Lotto 649 Guaranteed Winning Prize ticket worth $1 million in the Saturday, Oct. 17 draw was purchased in the Shuswap. (File photo)
Million-dollar lotto ticket bought in Okanagan

Ticket bought in Shuswap wins Lotto 649 Guaranteed Winning Match game from Saturday, Oct. 17

Six Mile Beach outside Nelson is known for its perfect sand, clear water and unique sand spit. But the drowning death of a man in July has residents asking if the dangerous spot has become too popular. Photo: David Grantham/Kootenay Drone Services
Dangerous oasis: The fatal history of a popular Kootenay Lake beach

Six Mile Beach near Nelson is known for its unique sand spit. But locals have feared it for decades

Most Read