BC’s restaurants are hurting—here’s how they can help themselves

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      By Julian Bond and Robert Clark

      In the ever-evolving landscape of Canada’s restaurant industry, many recent reports have cast a stark light on the challenges faced by owners and establishments—especially here in BC. 

      Shockingly, only 50 per cent of restaurants in the region achieve profit margins that allow them to continue business.

      The stats presented time and time again underscore the uphill battle that many establishments face in the post-pandemic era. COVID-19 has left an indelible mark, reshaping consumer behaviours, and forcing businesses to adapt or risk closure. Rising operational costs, supply chain disruptions, and changing consumer preferences have culminated in a challenging environment for restaurant owners and their chefs.

      Being seasoned industry professionals with a wealth of experience, we want to help change that. Understanding the plight of restaurant owners, we aim to be more than just consultants; we strive to be catalysts for transformation.

      The first key insight from Arame, our new consulting company, revolves around the pressing need to address financial sustainability. The 2023 Restaurants Canada report reveals the harsh reality that most restaurants are barely scraping by. So, a meticulous financial audit is important. Understanding where your money is going and identifying areas of optimization is crucial. 

      Another layer to our strategy involves focusing on menu innovation and sustainability. In times of crisis, it’s essential to be agile and creative. Revamping the menu to incorporate local, sustainable ingredients not only resonates with eco-conscious consumers, but also ensures a more resilient supply chain. By infusing creativity into menu design and sourcing responsibly, restaurants can attract a broader clientele while contributing to the community. 

      Several other critical challenges include rising food and labour costs, complicated liquor laws, and an overall unpredictable business environment. We take a multifaceted approach to overcoming these hurdles.

      One key initiative is to establish strategic partnerships within the industry. Collaborating with local suppliers, farmers, and producers can create a network of support that ensures a stable supply chain and mutually beneficial relationships. By fostering a sense of community within the culinary ecosystem, we can collectively navigate the challenges that lie ahead.

      This year will see BC food costs rise yet again, with a prediction of a 5.9 per cent increase. The rise in prices can be attributed to various factors, such as wildfires and flooding occurring throughout the province. Additionally, rising production costs have contributed to these price increases. It is crucial to reemphasize that climate change stands out as the most substantial challenge facing the food sector. 

      It’s also important to leverage technology to streamline operations and enhance the customer experience. Implementing user-friendly online ordering systems, adopting data-driven marketing strategies, and optimizing delivery services can help our industry stay competitive in an increasingly digital marketplace.

      We recognize the need for a skilled and motivated workforce. With labour shortages plaguing the industry, we propose menu engineering, and reworking present offerings that require less manpower, yet at the same time help create a positive work culture to attract and retain talent. By valuing and nurturing staff, restaurants can not only overcome current challenges, but also build a foundation for long-term success.

      We believe that supporting the restaurant industry goes beyond patronage—it involves actively engaging with the challenges and contributing to solutions. Locals can play a vital role by consciously choosing to dine at local establishments, participating in community-driven events, and advocating for policies that support the restaurant ecosystem.

      The current state of the restaurant industry in Canada and British Columbia is undeniably challenging, but with resilience, innovation, and community support, there is hope for a brighter future. The hospitality industry is resilient and defiant. It is an industry that counts pennies, not dollars. Yet through collaboration, the culinary landscape can emerge stronger, more vibrant, and ready to face the culinary challenges of tomorrow. It just needs a little guidance from time to time.

      Chefs Julian Bond and Robert Clark are the creators of Aramé Culinary Consulting.