Local chamber says struggles aren’t over for restaurants as capacity restrictions lifted

Staffing shortages, new subsidy programs cited as concerns

The sun did come up on Monday, despite the rain, for restaurants, bars, gyms, and other non-essential businesses that require proof of vaccination which were finally able to open without capacity restrictions.

“We’re encouraged by this,” said Paul Markle, executive director of the Barrie Chamber of Commerce.” The ability to get back to full capacity is awesome.”

“These guys need to get cash in the drawers. Hopefully, this sends a vote of confidence to people that have been hesitant to go back out to restaurants.”

Markle added that the province’s cautious approach to reopening is the right course of action.

But the hurdles are not completely removed, especially for the restaurant industry.

Markle said staffing considerations are a big concern.

“Whether you open up to 100 per cent capacity, and you don’t have enough staff to serve, then you’re still in a bit of a situation. A lot of restaurants have made decisions to go down to a shortened week, so they don’t stretch their people as far and be able to maximize whatever operating hours they have.”

Last Thursday, the federal government announced changes to the income and business support programs put in place during the pandemic.

The price tag for these changes is $7.4 billion.

Among them is The Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program, which will be available until May 2022.

The program would apply to businesses such as bars, restaurants, festivals, hotels, and travel agencies. To qualify, applicants will have to show an average monthly revenue loss of at least 40 per cent for the first 13 qualifying periods of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CWS) and a revenue loss of the same amount in the current month.

Until mid-March, 2022, the subsidy rate would reflect the revenue decline, up to 75 per cent, and then decline by half until the program’s expiration.

The government will also extend the Canada Recovery Hiring Program, for businesses that can show a more than 10 per cent revenue loss, until May 7, 2022, at a subsidy rate of 50 per cent paid to eligible employees.

Markle isn’t convinced the new subsidies are going to be enough.

“I hope the government is responsive and nimble that if they see things happening that they make adjustments along the way.”

The revised federal programs replace things like wage and rent subsidies.

“The federal wage subsidies are key to the businesses staying open, and the rent subsidies for those who were able to get those,” said Markle.

“Those types of supports that reduce their overheads are critical. You still have bills to pay. That stuff doesn’t go away.”