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August 4, 2022

“I think it was great of the province to actually let restaurants do offsale At that point, we just needed any avenue for income to survive.”

Joshua mclean, owner/operator of homestead bar a vin, inside his restaurant on friday, july 9, 2021 in regina.
Joshua McLean, owner/operator of Homestead Bar A Vin, inside his restaurant on Friday, July 9, 2021 in Regina. Photo by TROY FLEECE /Regina Leader-Post

Joshua McLean said he wasn’t surprised to learn that Saskatchewan was ranked last in Canada when it comes to alcohol policies for bars and restaurants.

McLean, the owner and operator of Regina’s Homestead Bar A Vin, said during the pandemic there were a number of hiccups dealing with the province and the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority.

Restaurants Canada (RC) ranked Saskatchewan lowest in Canada with a C− on its nationwide “report card” on liquor policies for bars and restaurants.

One sore spot for the group and McLean is the walking back of a pandemic-era policy which allowed restaurants to sell alcohol to customers like any liquor board or private seller.

“I think it was great of the province to actually let restaurants do offsale. At that point, we just needed any avenue for income to survive,” said McLean.

Back in 2021, McLean said he learned about the change in policy on a Tuesday in an email from the province which told him the policy was ending that Saturday.

“I had gotten a very significant wine order on the Monday because we were moving a lot of products as an offsale,” said McLean. When he asked for an extension to the program, McLean said he was told to simply return the wine. Eventually the policy was reintroduced but, there is still vagueness around what the restaurant is allowed to do with respect to advertising.

The grading criteria from RC looks at pricing, the amount of red tape restaurants have to deal with, customer experience and selection and how competitive things are between government and private liquor stores.

Jennifer Henshaw, Restaurants Canada director of provincial government relations for Western Canada, said the lack of communication greatly contributed to the province’s low score.

“It’s obviously incredibly frustrating for the food service sector in the province that’s struggling to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.

“It lapsed without any consultation or notification.”

Henshaw said one thing SLGA could do to level the playing field is to introduce wholesale pricing for all licensees as opposed to treating most bars and restaurants as retail customers, leading to higher prices for people buying from private stores unless a deal can be negotiated.

McLean said some laws are bit “archaic” and oftentimes service is slow but “I don’t think it’s their fault. I think they’re completely understaffed, and their system is old.”

For example, an order of wine he placed in January arrived two weeks ago which makes ordering season-specific wines, like a rosé for example, difficult.

One recommendation from RC is to introduce a “liquor server wage” which is a sub-minimum wage paid to workers who are often tipped as part of their jobs. Quebec maintains a liquor server wage which means while the provincial minimum wage is $14.25 an hour, workers who can receive tips can be paid $11.40 and hour.

McLean said “I think that that is ridiculous” since “tips are never guaranteed.”

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