Recent data from Statistics Canada shows restaurant and bar profits rose for the fourth consecutive month in September, but St. Albert restaurants say they have yet to fully recover from the pandemic.
In September Alberta recorded $1 billion in receipts from food services and bar sales. That’s more than in many previous years according to a report from ATB Financial which used the Statistics Canada data. However, about half of the increase is due to higher prices.
“I don’t think any restaurant has made a full rebound,” said Lynn Kolpak, owner of Socrates Restaurant on St. Albert Trail. “But we’re on our way.”
Since attracting new customers from Edmonton and through its catering, Socrates Restaurant has seen more in-person diners — possibly even more than before COVID, Kolpak said.
“I think dining in is taking over again,” she said. “I hope that’s not just a trend.”
But diners at Socrates Restaurant are being more economical, she said. Regular customers have been coming by less often, and large families have also stopped making as many repeat visits.
And she does have some concerns about future inflation. A report released on Dec. 7 from Dalhousie University’s agri-food analytics lab projects food prices could rise to 4.5 per cent in 2024.
In-person dining hasn’t bounced back quite as much at Jack’s Burger Shack, located at 130-15 Perron St.
Co-owner Ninh Le estimated that the restaurant used to pull in about 75 - 80 per cent of its sales from in-person customers, but now he believes that number is about 60 per cent.
The restaurant also started using third-party delivery apps recently, a move that Le had been avoiding due to the fees charged by Uber Eats and Skip the Dishes
Business, however, has remained stable since the pandemic.
"We’ve got tons of regulars,” Le said.
“Obviously, we’ve had to raise our prices like everyone else — but our quality is still the same.”
Le said that most of his customers understand that restaurants, like households, must endure inflation, and he’s received few complaints about prices.
But he’s also noticed customers ordering a little less than usual.
“If a group of friends or family come in, I always tell them our portions are big enough that if you guys are willing to share, I’d share,” he said. “I’m not here to gouge people, and I don’t like wasting food.”
Over at The Hot Grill, located at 3501 Tudor Glen, business has slowed somewhat.
“Compared with last year, last year was so busy at this time,” said co-partner Amitha Samarakoon.
Samarakoon said he changes food prices as infrequently as possible so that customers don’t get turned off.
“You have to be reasonable,” he said. “But according to the market price, we had to increase the price… It’s kind of challenging.”
Most customers are worried more about food quality than price, he said.
Hot Grill regulars that used to come two or three times a week are showing up only once a week now.
“Most people are broke now,” he said. “They have to minimize everything. They have to live according to the budget.”