Bar and restaurant owners are worried about the long-term effects recent health restrictions will have on their businesses and are asking for direct support from the Quebec government.
“Enough is enough,” businessman and founder of the Union des barreaux du Québec Peter Sergakis told The Suburban. “We want loans, not loans that have to be repaid. They must help us. Right now, only the federal government is helping us and the provincial government has not done much. Sergakis said the industry employs 200,000 workers and wonders why the government is not more proactive about the situation.
With the uncertainty of the situation in Quebec caused by the Omicron variant, some business owners have taken it upon themselves to close their restaurants while waiting for the situation to stabilize. John Gumbley, owner of Farsides and Bord’Elle said he closed his restaurants indefinitely before the government decided for him. “I don’t know when we’re going to open or what the government restrictions will be,” he said.
The situation created a domino effect for companies that were just starting to break even since the last shutdown. “They (the government) say they are helping us with loans. As the interest on the loan goes up and you reopen at less sales, staff and profitability, you have more expenses each month, ”Gumbley said.
Employees are unmotivated to work in the industry with the constant closures and unpredictability. “It’s very difficult,” Sergakis said. “We have been closed and opened so many times and I think this time around we are going to lose all the employees we have left.” He said there was already a staff shortage before the Omicron variant was announced, leading some companies to cut their hours of operation. “You’ve been shut down so many times that there aren’t any skilled workers or experienced people, so you’re starting from scratch,” Gumbley said.
Both Sergakis and Gumbley said customers were afraid to go out even though restaurants and bars were open. Although businesses were running 50%, many customers did not even show up, according to Gumbley, who criticized the government for being too strict. “Quebec has not given us the freedom to make money to the best of our ability,” said Gumbley. “If they had relaxed restrictions earlier like other provinces […] we could have earned 25% more to cover the losses we will make again. Serkagis said restaurants and bars are not the problem since they follow public health guidelines, and he does not agree with the government’s decision to shut them down.
Gumbley said the current situation means a “complete closure” of its restaurants. “I closed before I was forced to be closed, so that’s the degree of control I have now,” he said. “We will not know the level of help we will get […] we don’t know how to go about getting it, ”he said. Gumbley had to refund 150 New Years presale tickets to customers due to the new restrictions and saw no profitability in staying open at this time.
Martin Vézina, director of public and government affairs for the Association des restaurateurs du Quebec, told The Suburban that bars and restaurants will need “direct help” from the Quebec government to survive the new restrictions. He also called for an incentive for workers in the restaurant and bar industry who are discouraged from working in an “unstable” industry.