Business

Restaurants, pubs expect a solid night of business on New Year’s Eve

Customers have changed the way they eat and what they’ll pay since the COVID-19 epidemic

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There won’t be any fireworks, again, to ring in the New Year at Canada Place, but things seem to be picking up in the bar and restaurant industry after three years of struggles since COVID-19.

“From what I see and hear, things look pretty good,” said Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association. “The industry’s been pretty buoyant in December, we’ve had some good customer counts.”

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Those customer counts don’t necessarily translate into profits, Tostenson said, because the expenses restaurants have to pay have risen steeply, but the number of people dining out has probably come back to between 80 and 85 per cent of normal turnouts pre-COVID.

“People are going out, people have not pulled back and a lot of restaurants that have traditionally done things for New Year’s Eve — dinner and novel things — and they’re expecting to be quite busy.”

But trends have changed, Tostenson said.

“It’s not the traditional get-dressed-up, sit-down two-seatings kind of thing anymore, it’s a bit more casual.

“I think people are more adventurous.”

People may go somewhere for a drink, somewhere else for dinner, then somewhere else again for post-meal drinks, he said.

“I don’t think it’s like ‘go to one place and stay’ — it’s start at one place and go from there.

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People have their photo taken in front of a Vancouver sign at Canada Place in Vancouver, Dec. 26, 2023. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

On Dec. 31, 2020, it was a wash, and on New Year’s Eve 2021 restaurants had to close at 8 p.m.

“No one was happy about that, but it’s been building ever since then,” Tostenson said.

“People are still out enjoying themselves, but they’re spending differently.”

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More happy hour drinks and appetizers, for instance, versus a full-on expensive meal.

“Because meals are expensive, there’s no question about that, but people are still going out, still making plans, hit a restaurant and go to a show type of thing, more of an adventure rather than a destination.”

Two other factors that have become significant since pre-COVID, Tostenson said, are food delivery and the relative ease with which rides are available on hailing apps.

Pre-COVID food deliveries made up between 12 and 15 per cent of a restaurant’s business; today it’s about 25 per cent.

“And I think we forget how easy it is now on nights like New Year’s Eve to get to places easily,” Tostenson said.

“Before you’d order a taxi and it might now show up or you had to wait three hours or you wouldn’t want to leave the North Shore to go downtown because you’d never get back.

“With (ride-hailing) you can bounce around all over the place, it makes it more of an adventure.”

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