October Speaker Report: Ian Tostenson, BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association

Ian Tostenson speaks on ZOOM about COVID-19 and the restaurant business – October 2, 2020

Did you know that before the pandemic, restaurants and food services in BC was a $15 billion dollar industry that employed approximately 190,000 employees? That it was the third largest employer in the province? 45% of the employees were 18-24 years old and many were women.

And then the pandemic struck.

Ian Tostenson, the President and CEO of the BC Restaurant and Food Services Association (BCRFSA) described what happened next. Of the almost 400,000 jobs lost in BC in just two months, over 121,000 were from restaurants and food service providers.

Ian told us about personal phone calls, first from the Premier, then from the Lieutenant-Governor, encouraging his organization to invent methods to safely kick-start the industry. He had nothing but compliments for them, and for Dr. Bonnie Henry at this unique time in history. The BCRFSA drew on experts from its own industry, medical and health services and all levels of government to build a plan to restart and sustain restaurant services. And they did so in record time – 9 days! This plan has since been adapted by a number of provinces, and by several countries around the world.

The challenges were huge. Most restaurants normally depend on 80% capacity, yet the pre-COVID profit margin was on average just 4%. Reduced to 50% capacity to comply with COVID guidelines, restaurants were now fighting for their lives. Even with government support, unemployment in the industry floated around 40%. And it is uncertain that restaurants in the inner-city core will ever regain the lucrative lunch-hour business crowd.

Ian talked about how responsive municipal and provincial authorities – traditionally risk-averse – were in approving well-conceived plans for patios and winter extensions.

By the time you read this, you will have seen the latest, made-in-BC initiative: a certification program that you can use to identify those restaurants that meet the highest standard of COVID defenses.  You’ll also see more patio service this winter than ever before. With discreetly located Plexiglas barriers, many restaurants are operating at 60-70% capacity. The popularity of take-out, which has increased from 20% to 30% of the industry’s business, will continue to grow. The number of restaurants that provide liquor as part of the takeout experience will likely increase.

It is Ian’s hope that with continued guidance from medical experts, and a high level of entrepreneurial creativity, the restaurant industry will beat projections that 30% to 35% of BC restaurants will fail.

Certainly you can be a part of this emerging success story: in addition to masking and distancing, choose local restaurants that clearly demonstrate their commitment to your safety, and that of its employees.

Stay calm. Be safe. And support a restaurant today. And another one tomorrow!


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