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

There has been COVID-19 exposures at two elementary schools in District 42. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 24 additional COVID-19 cases

This includes three school exposures in Kelowna

Calvin Domin is running to raise awareness and funds for teen mental health resources. (Photo Contributed)
Locals run to fundraise for youth mental health

Proceeds go the the EKFH’s Not Alone campaign raising money to support the opening of the Foundary

Incumbent MLA Tom Shypitka is contesting Kootenay East for the BC Liberals. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)
Wilkinson would have been a great premier: Shypitka

Re-elected Kootenay East MLA responds to resignation of party leader

NDP headquarters on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
ELECTION 2020: Live blog from B.C. party headquarters

BC NDP projected to win majority government – but celebrations will look different this election

Tom Shypitka, pictured with his campaign team. on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. Trevor Crawley photo
Updated: Shypitka wins second term; BC NDP cruise to majority

“Election Days,” rather than “Election Day,” may be the more accurate term… Continue reading

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. records 217 more COVID-19 cases, mask use urged

Infection spike continues, 21 senior facilities affected

Slippery roads led to this crash in West Trail on Friday morning. Photo: Trail RCMP
First snow in Kootenays causes multiple crashes; one suspected of involving alcohol

The Trail and Greater District RCMP’s weekly brief contains details on collisions

Pixabay photo
‘Horrific’ abuse of volunteers, staff by parents must stop: Chilliwack soccer club

Parents have become abusive after being told COVID-19 rules, email says

FILE – The Queen of Alberni ferry leaves the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal in Delta bound for Vancouver Island, Sunday, July 29, 2007. (CP PHOTO/Richard Lam) CANADA
Mechanical failure leaves nearly 200 passengers stranded on BC Ferries ship for hours

A tug arrived after dark to safely nudge the vessel into a berth so travellers could finally disembark

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Ridge Meadows RCMP (Black Press)
Maple Ridge X-ray tech convicted of sexual assault dating back 30 years

Allen James Brooks is expected to be sentenced in January 2021

BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson leaves the stage after announcing he is stepping down as party leader, during a news conference in Burnaby, B.C., on Monday, October 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Too rural, not enough diversity, soul searching needed, say BC Liberals

Elections BC says there are about 600,000 mail-in and absentee ballots across the province still to count

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes his way to provide an update on the COVID pandemic in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. Canada has reached a grim milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic, surpassing 10,000 novel coronavirus deaths. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Alberta COVID deaths pushes Canada past milestone of 10,000 deaths

Canada crossed the threshold of 5,000 deaths on May 12, a little over two months after the first was reported

An elderly woman wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past an advertisement for a television series in Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. has been under a COVID-19 state of emergency for more than half the year

Province has been under a state of emergency for 32 weeks – and counting

Most Read