Establishment-friendly Alberta downgraded in latest Raise The Bar report

November 28 2017

Alberta’s reputation as one of the most business-friendly places to run a bar or licensed restaurant is slipping, according to Restaurants Canada.

This is after the industry group downgraded Alberta from B+ to a B in its second ever Raise the Bar report, which rates provinces on the bar- and restaurant-friendliness of their liquor policies, especially in regards to price, selection, licensing and regulation.

Restaurants Canada explained that Alberta’s downgrade was due to two reasons. First, an increase in provincial liquor mark-ups on beer, wine and spirits, and second, the government’s decision to cancel the liquor server wage, which had long been in place to recognize that these employees earn gratuities in excess of minimum wage.

Mark von Schellwitz, Restaurants Canada’s vice president for Western Canada, commented: “Labour costs in our industry are second only to food and beverage costs, so when the government decides to increase both at the same time, the math doesn’t add up for bar and restaurant owners.

“For the government to hit businesses with these extra costs during a recession adds insult to injury.”

The Canadian government rakes in $10.9 billion from the control and sale of alcohol every year, according to the Statistics Canada and Impact Databank.


It wasn’t all bad news for Alberta. The report praised the province for offering wholesale pricing to licensees and Alberta remains at the top of the class as the only province that offers true wholesale pricing.

That said, the report also sneered at the 25-case minimum order requirement, something it felt discriminates against smaller bar and restaurant owners who may be unable to commit to hefty orders.

Mr von Schellwitz called on the government to follow through on a promised review that would update several antiquated laws and regulations.

“This is an industry that builds communities, promotes local products, creates jobs and provides the best in Alberta hospitality,” he added. “Why not work together to help it thrive?”

In contrast to Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador sat at the foot of the rankings with a D-minus, due to high prices, limited selection and excess red tape.

The full table looks like this:

  • Alberta: B
  • Quebec: B-
  • Nova Scotia: B-
  • P.E.I: B-
  • British Columbia: C
  • Manitoba: C
  • Saskatchewan: C-
  • Ontario: D+
  • New Brunswick: D
  • Newfoundland: D-

Further reading: Mix up your cocktail list with a festive twist

There are 48,000 bars and licensed restaurants in Canada, directly employing 560,000 people and generating $8.2 billion a year in economic activity, most of which (97 percent) is invested straight back into the community through wages, benefits, business purchases and charitable donations.

However, outdated regulations and unfair pricing are making it difficult for many bars and licensed restaurants to stay afloat, with the average profit margin hovering around three percent of operating revenue.

Restaurants Canada said its first Raise the Bar report card in 2015 sparked plenty of positive change. It helped Alberta cut red tape and make licensing rules more flexible for patios, while Quebec cut the number and cost of required liquor licenses.

Elsewhere, Saskatchewan made progress on liquor retail privatization and access to liquor wholesale pricing and Nova Scotia now allows restaurants to serve a limited number of drinks without food.

You can read Restaurants Canada's second ever Raise the Bar report here

Image: franticstudio/iStock