Restaurants find new ways to survive during COVID-19 pandemic

OTTAWA — The food service industry has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 300,000 restaurant jobs have been lost across Ontario, and for the businesses that have remained open, they are doing whatever they can to pay the bills.

Louis’ Pizza in Vanier suffered a blow to their business when the pandemic closed the dine-in portion of the restaurant. Pizza deliveries were next, with less orders coming in as people were laid off or stayed at home to save money.

“Business was going down,” says Moe Saab, owner of Louis’ Pizza. “We had to lay off the waitresses.”

So his granddaughter Julie Tahan had an idea – sell make-your-own pizza kits.

“It’s day five today and we’ve been really busy with those,” says Tahan, now selling as many as 200 kits a day. “The business was winding down and with these kits, thank God, it’s helping the business.”

Saab was able to keep all the kitchen staff, and says that business is now doing well-enough that he doesn’t have to worry for the now.

But that’s not the case for everyone.

The Canadian Restaurant and Food Service Association of Canada painted a grim picture of the industry. COVID-19 has cost the sector more than 300-thousand jobs in Ontario alone and those jobs might not come back.

Four out of five restaurants have laid off staff since the beginning of March, and as many as one out of ten restaurants have already closed permanently.

Restaurants that did a lot of takeout and delivery before are doing okay,” says James Rilett, Vice President, central Canada, for Restaurants Canada. But says dine-in restaurants sales are down as much as ninety-five percent.

“Rent, hydro, water bills, all those things keep coming insurance, all those things keep coming even though they don’t have revenue coming in,” said Rilett.

In the tight-nit community of Manotick, owner Talaal Baroudi of The Vault Restaurant is facing that exact problem.

Baroudi has laid off all 20 of his staff and has pivoted his business, taking orders for delivery. He’s also launched a new initiative, packaging fresh produce, meats and dairy and selling them at cost to help members of the community who may not be able to get to stores.

Baroudi says it’s barely enough to pay the rent.

“It’s just important that we can help in anyway we can and if we can pay a couple of bills that would be great,” said Baroudi. When asked how long his business can stay afloat, he says “not sure, we’ll just going day-by-day and see how long we can continue to keep our doors open.

The Ontario government has deferred taxes and other payments in an effort to ease bills as much as possible, but for restaurants who are generating little-to-no money, it may not be enough.

“We’ve deferred as much as we can and paying as little as we can,” says Baroudi. “For us it’s just to maintain as long as we can.”

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