Canadian restaurants were experiencing a post-pandemic renaissance … and then Omicron hit. Still, OpenTable data shows the B.C. diners are still enthusiastic about dining out (and ordering in). We chatted with Matt Davis, Canada country director for OpenTable, about what 2022 may hold for restaurants, and how the public can continue to support them through the year. —Noa Nichol
Hi Matt! Please tell us a bit about yourself to start.
I have been passionate about hospitality and the restaurant industry since I was a child. I got my start in Sydney, Australia, and eventually moved to Toronto to pursue my North American dream. I worked in fine-dining front of house and then became the general manager of a Toronto restaurant before joining OpenTable. It was a natural progression given my industry experience and familiarity with the reservation platform, plus my desire to help restaurants innovate. I relocated to Vancouver a few years ago with my partner and our dog, who is an important part of our lives.
The last two years have been … unique. What have some of the biggest challenges for restaurants been?
The hospitality industry has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic. Restaurants have been impacted by mandatory or voluntary restrictions, and have had to pivot multiple times to keep their businesses viable. Additionally, many people chose to leave the hospitality sector when restaurants weren’t able to operate at capacity, making staffing a challenge even though Canadians are eager to dine out.
We know, through OpenTable data, that Canadian restaurants were experiencing a post-pandemic renaissance before Omicron. What did that look like?
Restaurants across Canada were experiencing a post-pandemic renaissance before Omicron. A survey of OpenTable restaurants in November 2021 indicated 70 per cent of restaurant owners and managers were approaching 2022 with optimism, reporting increased demand for reservations and increases in diner spending. OpenTable seated diner data from online, phone and walk-in reservations revealed that the number of diners at Canadian restaurants were approaching pre-pandemic levels and on occasions exceeding pre-pandemic levels in late summer and fall 2021. Labour Day weekend saw the number of seated diners at Canadian restaurants spike at almost 20% higher than the same period in 2019. We know that Canadians are enthusiastic about dining out when they feel confident.
Has Omicron changed things (or thrown a wrench in them)? How?
Omicron dampened some of the optimism we had seen late last year. Provincial governments have introduced restrictions of varying degrees ranging from reduced capacity limits to restriction of indoor dining. However, we continue to see restaurant owners be entrepreneurial and give their businesses their all.
The numbers still reveal that British Columbians enjoy eating out; is part of this a show of support for the local restaurant industry?
Almost a third (31 per cent) of British Columbians intend to eat out more frequently than before the pandemic, with 60 per cent of those diners stating they are doing so to support local restaurants. Our restaurants in B.C. are also in the fortunate position of having been consistently open and diner confidence relatively high.
OpenTable initiatives and tools to support restaurants include Show up for Restaurants, which educates diners on the impact of no shows. Can you tell us a little more about that?
Almost one in 10 Canadians surveyed say they haven’t shown up for a reservation. What many don’t realize is that canceling is better than simply not showing up. We understand life happens, but restaurants can lose the entire profit margin for that shift if a table of six doesn’t show up. As part of our commitment to restaurants, OpenTable launched ‘Show-Up for Restaurants’ last spring to spotlight the impact of no-shows and to encourage diners to modify or cancel their reservation when plans change. We also have tools and features to help restaurants prevent no-shows including a “four strikes and you’re out” policy that suspends diners who don’t show up for a reservation four times per calendar year.
Looking to the future (and hopefully it’s rosy), what are some top dining trends for 2022?
An OpenTable survey of British Columbians revealed top dining trends for 2022:
- 61 per cent of British Columbians intend to eat healthier this year and more than a quarter (26 per cent) started the year off with a dry January
- Almost half (44 per cent) of British Columbians look for non-alcoholic drink options when choosing a restaurant
- 42 per cent of British Columbians state that the variety of menu options most influence their choice of restaurant
What, in your opinion, does the coming year hold for restaurants?
We’re hoping to see the same kind of surge experienced by restaurants last summer as soon as we emerge from this period. Canadian restaurants experienced some of the longest periods of restriction in the world, yet also saw a strong rebound. The restaurant industry has had to be flexible and agile throughout the past two years. While this has been difficult and in some cases, devastating; it’s also driven innovation and has opened up new opportunities for restaurants to connect with, and serve, their guests. This is particularly evident in the rapid uptake and adoption of take-out and delivery offerings, retail-products, merchandise and of course – the digital space. I expect this trend to continue and believe these new streams of revenue will persist in different ways once indoor dining resumes.
What can we, as diners, do to further support restaurateurs?
At this time it’s crucial for Canadians to support restaurants in any way they can. This means ordering out or getting delivery, considering purchasing restaurant gift cards and simply showing up for dine-in reservations.
Conversely, what can restaurateurs do/how can they evolve to reconnect with guests, some of whom may be wary?
Restaurants will manage this wave relying on lessons learned from the past. Take out and delivery is crucial through this period, so we made it possible for restaurant lovers to order from their favourite restaurants through OpenTable. When diners return, as they did enthusiastically in the past, OpenTable helps restaurants ensure they’re managing capacity efficiently and allows them to communicate directly with diners through the platform. We will also continue to advocate on behalf of restaurants and promote the importance of honouring reservations.
Final, personal question: if you could only eat one restaurant’s dish for the rest of your life, what would it be?
As an avid and active diner, I have many favourites across Canada. If I could eat one cuisine type for the rest of my life, it would be anything Asian!