Despite open dining rooms, Montreal restaurants still in battle to be profitable

Montreal restaurant owners say there's a long way to go before they're profitable again after 16 months of opening and closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The biggest problem now is the debt load they've accrued throughout the pandemic,” explains Restaurants Canada Vice-President James Rilett. “Paying that back and getting into a period of profitability will take, we estimate, a year to a year-and-a-half. In the meantime, we think a lot of small, independent restaurants will have to close their doors.”

Among the challenges facing the industry, restaurant owners state that, while customers are returning to the dining rooms, there are still limits on how many people can come in at a time.

“We're at half capacity. The space that we have was reduced to 40 per cent. We went from 67 to 38 seats,” said Tota Oung of Les Street Monkeys.

Some business owners add they made some drastic changes in order to survive the pandemic.

"We turned our dining room into a prep station to make sure we provide enough food for everybody, so our dining room is not available," notes Willson Luu of Le Petit Vibe. "We do have a couple tables in the front."

Now that they've reopened, restaurants lament they're being forced to deal with the rising price of ingredients.

“We've seen a lot of food inflation due to the cost of grain going up, shipping costs have gone up a lot and it worked its way through the supply chain,” said Rilett. “We're seeing that hitting restaurants now.”

In addition, they're trying to find and keep good staff.

“We wanted them to stay with us, increase their salaries, especially in the kitchen,” said Hillary Romero with Les Street Monkeys. “That's another facet of why we would increase the pricing on the menu.”

Nevertheless, owners say they're happy to be back in business and see their customers face-to-face again.

"The support of the community, everyone whose been showing up, everyone who has been there from the jump, all the new clients, it's all we can ask for," said Eric Lazaro with Le Petit Vibe. "We have good cooks and good workers; it's the community that comes to show support."

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