In Canada, “the restaurant industry” means the 100,000 or so small businesses that employ more than a million people. With no small thanks to you (and all of us, really) restaurants contributed $93 billion to our economy last year.
And right now, your neighbourhood restaurant really needs you. Sure, you can’t go and sit at the bar and represent over a bite and a beer; but take a look at how, since mid-March, restaurants have found new ways to show the spirit that makes them our favourite places to eat, drink and hang out.
The spirit shone brighter even as shutdown orders hit everywhere: Independent restaurants, bars, cafés and their workers quickly mobilized and banded together to help each other, their colleagues and others in their communities. We’ve rounded up just a sampling of what’s happening across the country.
Support for Restaurant Workers
With up to half of Canada’s independent restaurants facing an indefinite shutdown, hundreds of thousands of workers are left struggling to make ends meet. Jessica Cytryn and Kaitlin Doucette acted within days of Quebec’s self-isolation order to establish the Montreal Restaurant Workers Relief Fund (MRWRF) – one of the earliest employee-focused fundraising efforts in the country. With GoFundMe donations and partner initiative purchases amounting to over $111,000, the MRWRF has already provided support for 569 workers and is determined to widen its reach. “A good way to contribute is by spreading the word among your network,” says Cytryn. “The wider the reach, the more people we can help.”
Similar emergency relief funds have since popped up in other cities – such as the Toronto Restaurant Workers Relief Fund and the Vancouver Food and Beverage Community Relief Fund – and the Canadian Hospitality Workers Relief Fund (CHWRF) is offering one-time, $500 grants to anyone working in the wider hospitality sector facing a shortage of work. The fund, established by a coalition of restaurant groups and Uber Eats, is giving out 20,000 grants in a first wave that began on May 6. The need is unprecedented, so the aim is to grow the fund and keep helping. “We never thought we could be affected by something like this,” says CHWRF spokesperson, restaurateur and Air Canada Culinary Partner Vikram Vij. “In extreme circumstances we may have had to close for a few days or a week, but six weeks or six months? Restaurant businesses and workers have no protection against that.”
Many restaurants have opted for a “pay now, eat the food you love later” model to help keep their business and employees afloat. In Calgary, Eatlater.ca started as a single point to purchase gift cards for many local restaurants, before recently growing to support businesses from coast to coast. And the non-profit Breaking Bread is an online hub connecting consumers to more than 1,500 eateries, wineries, breweries and grocery delivery services across Canada, with a search engine to help you quickly find that pad thai or fried chicken you’ve been craving.