Canadians who are planning to dine at a restaurant for the first time in months should brace for some sticker shock as food prices are expected to head higher, according to the head of one prominent restaurant group.

“Consumers are going to see prices go up," said Mark McEwan, celebrity chef and founder of the McEwan Group, in a broadcast interview. “Wholesale prices have gone up, energy prices are up, there’s definitely pressure on wages as well. There’s not much we can do about it; that’s the playing field we’re dealing with.”

The McEwan Group is owner to a number of restaurants including One Restaurant, Bymark and other upscale establishments in Toronto. His comments come as Ontario enters Step Three of its reopening plan which permits indoor dining for the first time in more than 200 days.

Seafood has seen huge price increases compared to pre-COVID-19 levels, he said. Seasonal dishes like king crab prices have jumped to US$65 per pound from US$45 per pound since the start of the pandemic, McEwan said, adding that he doesn’t see any reason for prices to come down soon.

“I believe once the subsidies subside and that cash flow stops, we’ll get a sense of what the new normal will be to what people can spend and where inflation is going to go.” he said.

McEwan said he is also bracing for potential disruptions this fall, pointing to comments from Ontario medical officials earlier this week that a fourth wave of COVID-19 cases in Ontario is possible in September. 

“Going forward I’m going to be even more conservative,” said McEwan. “We’ve got to put wood away for a tough day.”

“The messaging coming out of the government has been all over the map. So much smoke in the air, it’s crazy from a business standpoint. That the government sees locking down again in the future is just shocking.”

As for welcoming returning customers, McEwan said he and staff are ecstatic. And so too are customers, some of whom are indulging in martinis, caviar and big steaks, he noted. 

“They’re in a festive mood and excited to be out,” he said. “No matter what you put on the board, people are ordering it in abundance.”