More than half of Canadian restaurants may close permanently within months, survey finds

TORONTO -- A dire prediction for Canada’s restaurant industry as a new survey finds that 60 per cent say they are unable to operate with social distancing measures in place and may have to close.

"We had to make a tough decision and we made it," said Hal Roback, the owner Frankie Tomatto’s, a popular Markham restaurant that has been operating for 25 years. 

The Italian buffet which has had to stay closed since March made the decision to close its doors permanently because of COVID -19 and the likelihood it won’t be able to make a profit in the near future.

Roback said closing the restaurant, which is also a spot for tourist to stop by to take photos because it has a 55-foot-high leaning tower was difficult to do.

“It's really been a heart wrenching experience," Roback said.

The survey by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce found that 29 per cent of food service businesses can’t operate with social distancing in effect and 31 per cent of food service businesses say they can only operate with social distancing for 90 days.

The chamber says that mean that 60 per cent of Canadian restaurants could fail within three months.

“It’s very worrisome,” CEO and President of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce Perrin Beatty said.

Beatty said 1.2 million Canadians are employed in the restaurant industry with an annual payroll of $30 billion. 

He said in good times profit margins are only four to six per cent and with COVID-19 it's nearly impossible for many restaurants to make money.

“If you take half the seats out of a restaurant because of social distancing it is simply a matter of mathematics. There is simply no way you can make it work no matter how hard you try,” Beatty said.

Beatty said the industry needs government programs that are specifically tailored to help restaurants get through the pandemic. 

Ontario Premier Doug Ford acknowledged that the restaurant industry is going through a difficult time.

“That is a tough business and a lot of people are hurting right now, but hopefully we can get to a stage where they can spread out the tables and at least try to keep the doors open,” Ford said.

The industry is calling on the public to support restaurants in their local communities or more restaurants like Frankie Tomatto’s will also be closing their doors. 

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