Restaurants Canada is a national non-profit organization focused on advancing the restaurant and hospitality industry. For the fourth time since 2015, they released their liquor policy report card, and Alberta earned the best grade in the country with a B+.
Restaurants Canada Vice President Mark von Schellwitz says Alberta has consistently been great at promoting liquor services, which has been a huge help to the hospitality industry.
"Alberta has had a long history of being a sort of pioneer when it comes to liquor reforms, going back a couple of decades ago when Alberta decided to go with privatized liquor sale and distributions system, and at that time all licensees received wholesale pricing and we just had a really good working relationship with AGLC and the government on liquor policies."
Schellwits says the privatization is a huge reason why Alberta earned the best grade, but the Alberta Government's efficient system and consistently striving to improve were also big factors. Since Alberta is always looking for how to improve, it made us one of the best provinces during the covid lockdowns to support liquor sales.
"As far as pandemic relief was concerned, Alberta was one of the first provinces that allowed liquor for takeout and delivery, recognized the big shift to takeout delivery sales at the outset of the pandemic. And a bunch of those types of policies, as well as just simplifying the rules. Basically what Alberta did is just build on their already best in class liquor model in Canada."
Many Alberta hospitality businesses have access to wholesale pricing, but this isn't the case for all of Canada. This is one thing that made Alberta stand out from other areas.
"We still have some jurisdictions in Canada where we have to pay full retail for our liquor products, the same price that you and I would pay going into a liquor store. And then they have to mark it up from there. So that is the number one difference"
While Alberta did earn the highest grade, a B+ grade still isn't perfect. Schellwitz says he wants to see Alberta continue to eliminate regulations and make wholesale pricing even more accessible.
"We want to see continuing improvement on reducing onerous regulations. Alberta has already done more than most provinces and already reduced its liquor red tape by more than a third. So we just want to keep that progress continuing. Also, anything to make it easier for our smaller members to access wholesale pricing. A number of smaller members, because of AGLC's 25 case minimum, has difficulty ordering that much product."
Alberta's focus on making things business-friendly has been great for helping businesses get back to their feet. Schellwitz says 40 per cent of businesses in their organization are losing money, while 20 per cent are breaking even. On top of that, 80 per cent are facing rising interest prices as they had to take on debt during the pandemic. And with other challenges ahead like inflation, Schellwitz says it's important the Alberta Government stays on track in making things simple.
"What our members are asking for is a 'do no harm' approach for extra costs and regulatory burden right now. what we're really asking governments to do is to help us with recovery because when our industry recovers so does the communities that they're in."
While hearing about loosening restrictions and making alcohol easier to serve may have some concerned, Schellwits says there is no need to worry. He says the Alberta Government and Restaurants Canada are very focused on keeping things safe, so nothing gets out of hand. He says they are always watching to prevent over service and preventing minors from drinking.
"We're a very regulated industry, and all of our servers have pro-serve responsible liquor service. so as far as a venue to go enjoy a cocktail or a beer with some food, we're one of the safest places to do that, and that is something that the Alberta government as well has always been on top of, as far as compliance and enforcement, to make sure we are doing that service safely."
The lowest grade was Saskatchewan with a C-, and British Columbia and Nova Scotia tied for second at a B.