Even with loyal customers, Montreal restaurateurs say they can't turn a profit with table service

A couple of weeks after Montreal restaurants’ reopening, the conclusion at some isn’t too cheerful: that it’s just not worth it.

"I'm going to be spending two dollars to make a dollar,” says William Gogas, the co-owner of Lafayette Hot Dog in the Village.

With office buildings closed, there just isn’t the same demand in some areas for restaurant food. And with the limit on the number of tables, Lafayette Hot Dog wouldn’t turn a profit, he says.

Add to that the owners’ worries about health and about treating their staff well.

“We are nervous,” said Gogas. “I mean, it's not fair to the employees if you hire them and then after that you have to let them go again because you don't know what's going to happen.”

The solution for him: sticking with takeout.

He's the norm, not the outlier. According to Restaurants Canada, 84 per cent of full-service restaurants say they still aren’t profitable since reopening, and 61 per cent believe their recovery could take more than a year.

The restaurant industry employs 1.2 million people in Canada. Restaurants Canada’s David Lefebvre says that the government is going to need to do more if it wants to preserve the bulk of those jobs until the pandemic is over.

There’s no chance that all of the jobs will survive.

“Ten per cent of restaurants say they're closed forever, they're gone, they're not going to reopen,” Lefebvre said.

“Between 18 and 20 per cent that say they're going to have a hard time, but they want to do it, and with government support and if customers come back quickly they're going to make it.”

Demand isn’t always the issue. At Loic in Saint-Henri, people are getting turned away every night because capacity is so limited, said owner Michael Griffin.

Yet with only eight tables, the restaurant still can’t make much money.

“It's been nice to have people back in the dining room, but hasn't been very busy or very lucrative,” Griffin said.

He noted that in normal times, restaurants that operate at 50 per cent capacity usually fail.

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