Liqour selections

The restaurant group ranks Saskatchewan. lowest in Canada for liquor policies

“I think it was great of the province to let the restaurants do the selling. At that time, we just needed any source of income to survive.”

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

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McLean, owner and operator of Homestead Bar A Vin in Regina, said during the pandemic there have been a number of issues with the province and the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority.

Restaurants Canada (RC) ranked Saskatchewan last in Canada with a C− on its national liquor policy “scorecard” for bars and restaurants.

A sore point for the group and McLean is the rollback of a pandemic-era policy that allowed restaurants to sell alcohol to customers like any liquor board or private seller.

“I think it was great of the province to let the restaurants do the selling. At that time, we just needed any source of income to survive,” McLean said.

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

“I had received a very large wine order on Monday because we were carrying a lot of off-sale product,” McLean said. When he asked for an extension to the program, McLean said he was told to just return the wine. Eventually, the policy was reintroduced, but there’s still some vagueness around what the restaurant is allowed to do when it comes to advertising.

RC’s ranking criteria focus on price, the amount of red tape restaurants have to deal with, customer experience and selection, and competition between government and private liquor stores.

Jennifer Henshaw, Restaurants Canada’s provincial government relations director for Western Canada, said the lack of communication was a big contributor to the province’s low score.

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“It’s obviously incredibly frustrating for the province’s restaurant industry as it struggles to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.

“It lapsed without any consultation or notification.”

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

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

For example, a wine order he placed in January arrived two weeks ago, which makes it difficult to order wines specific to the season, such as a rosé for example.

One recommendation from RC is to introduce an “alcohol server wage” which is a below-minimum wage paid to workers who are often tipped as part of their job. Quebec maintains an alcohol server wage, which means that while the provincial minimum wage is $14.25 per hour, workers who can be tipped can be paid $11.40 per hour.

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

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