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Restaurant lobby is serving baloney with claims of hard times for Alberta restaurants

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Restaurant interior. Photo: Jonas de Carvalho/Wikimedia Commons

Baloney: a large smoked, seasoned sausage made of various meats.

Where's the beef?

In an opinion piece in the Calgary Herald last week, Restaurants Canada claimed that "a perfect storm of tax increases and painful policy changes … have worsened conditions for restaurants over the past four years."

This was part of a campaign opposing Alberta's $15-per-hour minimum wage, as well as the NDP government that brought it in, that was being launched by the restaurant industry lobby group. The Toronto-based national organization has registered with Elections Alberta as a third-party advertiser in the upcoming Alberta provincial election.

The op-ed story in the Herald claimed that restaurant owners have few options but to cut staff or raise prices -- "neither being viable solutions for most small businesses."

Opposition Leader Jason Kenney soon jumped aboard, backsliding on a previous pledge he'd made to leave the $15 minimum in place if he were elected, suggesting instead he would reintroduce lower differential minimum wages for young people, liquor servers and the disabled.

As was noted here at the time, this all seemed odd, since a Statistics Canada report last fall indicated that despite the recession, the problems in the oilpatch, and the much-complained-about polices of Premier Rachel Notley's NDP, Alberta's restaurants were breaking records for the volume of their receipts.

"Higher-priced menu items will do little to dissuade Albertans from eating at their favourite restaurants," predicted the economists at ATB Financial, the Edmonton-based banking institution, in an analysis of the StatsCan findings last September.

Well, maybe things have changed since then, a fair-minded person might wonder.

But new numbers are now in and, while things have indeed changed, they've changed for the better from the perspective of the restaurant industry.

Spending in Alberta restaurants set a new record in December, with restaurant and bar receipts rising to $810 million that month. December's total was nearly a full 1 per cent higher than November's, which at $803-million was also an all-time record, the Statistics Canada figures show.

Restaurant and bar receipts for the full year last year in Alberta were up 2.2 per cent over those of 2017.

"Compared to other provinces, Albertans continued to spend the second most on meals and drinks outside the home," ATB Financial said in its latest analysis of the industry's receipts. "The average Albertan spent close to $190 at restaurants or bars in December. British Columbia remains in the Number One spot with spending at $213 per person. The Canadian average was $167."

In the analysis, published yesterday, ATB Financial's economists were careful to note this time that "while it's a good sign that sales reached a new record, this only tells us that revenue is rising. It says nothing about how profitable Alberta's restaurants and bars are after expenses are considered."

But don't forget what they said last fall about the likely continued willingness of Albertans to pay more for food outside the home.

The obvious inference from these facts from Canada's reputable national statistics agency is that the timing of Restaurants Canada's campaign was not dictated by hard times in the Alberta restaurant sector but by political considerations, specifically the hope they can held defeat a government that has made a higher priority of fair treatment for the working poor than profits for the fast-food industry.

Contrary to Restaurants Canada's spin, notwithstanding some higher costs, it seems likely times for Alberta restaurateurs have never been better.

That aroma from the kitchen? Smells like baloney, not beef.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Photo: Jonas de Carvalho/Wikimedia Commons

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