P.E.I. restaurants came roaring back in 2022
After two years of battling the pandemic, PEI restaurants served record levels of dinners in 2022, according to Statistics Canada.
“We had a great summer. It’s been an incredibly busy second and third quarter,” said Richard Court, owner and operator of Pilot House and Sea Rocket Oyster House in Charlottetown.
“Once we got rolling and tourists started coming across the bridge, and with the plane, it was full force.”
PEI restaurant sales reached nearly $88 million in July and August, up 17 percent from the previous record set in 2019.
Restaurateurs were looking forward to an even stronger 2020. Then came the pandemic. Restaurant dining rooms were closed in the spring, struggling with delivery. The Atlantic bubble opened in the summer, but restaurant sales plummeted to about $52 million in July and August.
The pain was not felt immediately.
Full-service restaurants in particular suffered, with sales falling by more than 40 percent. Limited service — takeout and delivery — only fell about 10 percent in 2020. By 2021, takeout and delivery had more than recovered, while full-service restaurants were still down 15 percent.
Anna Zeng, whose King’s Barbecue and Vegetarian Restaurant in Charlottetown offers both eat-in and take-out as well as catering, said take-out was far from making up for lost dining room sales in 2020 and 2021.
“In the past few years, our business has been completely dead,” Zeng said.
“We don’t have a dine-in. Some people have tried ordering pickup or delivery. But business hasn’t been that good anywhere… It’s been a big fight for us.”
But like Court’s restaurants, King’s Barbecue and Vegetarian have come out the other side.
“I’m really happy this summer. We can see the visitor coming back. There is a motel next to us, they are all full. It’s a big change this year,” said Zeng.
“Now it’s Christmas time and I see more locals. They come back for eat, for take out and also for delivery.”
The catering business has also recovered, she said.
Bigger, better workforce
Sales aren’t the only aspect of the restaurant business that has improved.
While restaurant staffing has been a challenge for years, these struggles have increased in 2020 and 2021. Summer headcount, which exceeded 6,000 in 2019, fell below 5,000 in 2020. Even as sales recovered in 2021, headcount didn’t.
But restaurants have been more successful at recruiting staff this summer, with the industry employing an average of almost 6,700 workers in July and August.
“This summer was better than the summer before that,” Court said. “I felt like there was a bigger workforce and a greater depth of skills.”
Court said he saw both new faces and people returning to the industry.
Zeng also said that hiring would be easier this summer.