Some restaurants and bars that have been eager to expand table service as COVID-19 restrictions ease are running into yet another issue: suppliers running out of key menu ingredients.
“Pre-pandemic there were no shortages,” said Peter Bakopanos, president of MVP Restaurant and Bar Sportif in Montreal, in a phone interview. “Now, there are a lot of shortages. It’s across the board.”
For just one example, Bakopanos said he ordered 100 cases of beer prior to opening on May 28 but only received 14.
After being limited to only offering takeout and delivery for months under some of the strictest lockdown rules in North America, food product shortages are just the latest headache for small business owners to contend with.
Gordon Food Service, the largest family-operated distributor in North America, said there are a number of barriers in keeping its full roster of food items in stock, beyond the spike in demand from economic reopenings.
“There are also constraints in transportation, with real capacity challenges in moving product, whether in ports or overland trucking,” said Mark Schurman, a spokesperson for Gordon Food Service, in an emailed statement.
“As for specific products, it is very dynamic, but certainly protein categories have seen pressure because of production challenges, and products coming in from international markets have also faced backups at ports and borders,” added Schurman.
Ontario-based food distributor Flanagan Foodservice Inc., meantime, said it has been struggling to fill driver and warehouse worker positions.
“The shortage of drivers is a big issue that predates the pandemic. The devastating impact that the pandemic has had on the foodservice industry certainly hasn’t helped us attract and retain talent especially in high demand areas like transportation and warehouse work,” said Flanagan President Dan Lafrance.  “We did lose employees to other industries that were less impacted than us.”
In addition to labour, it can also be difficult to anticipate changing demand from commercial clients in terms of what kind of products they’ll need and when they’ll need them, said Lafrance.
He pointed to the surge in demand for takeout containers during lockdowns – which is now declining, while orders for patio favourites like nachos, beverages and ice cream have jumped.
“I think the summer will be a bit rocky but I would expect that the product supply challenges will ease by the fall.  From a labour perspective, it’s a daily challenge that will take much longer to ease,” said Lafrance.
Bakopanos is anticipating the food shortage issue will get worse before it gets better.
When his usual commercial suppliers are running short, Bakopanos says there are a few cash-and-carry businesses that offer a full line of restaurant food but it can cost as much as $3 more per product – an added cost his restaurant just has to eat.