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Restaurant sales surpassed pre-pandemic levels in March: Statistics Canada

FILE - People enjoy a beer and food in Leopold's Tavern in Edmonton on Thursday June 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson FILE - People enjoy a beer and food in Leopold's Tavern in Edmonton on Thursday June 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
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Restaurant and bar sales in this country have surpassed their pre-COVID-19 levels for the first time since the pandemic began, according to Statistics Canada.

New data released Tuesday shows Canadian restaurant and bar sales increased by 6.5 per cent monthly in March to $6.8 billion. Year-over-year, sales were up 35 per cent compared with March 2021, 62.9 per cent compared with March 2020 and 4.9 per cent higher than March 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The increase in restaurant and bar sales in March of this year occurred as pandemic-related restrictions eased across the country. Ontario saw the largest increase in dollar terms, while Manitoba saw the biggest percentage increase.

The increase in sales also coincided with surging inflation and rising food costs across the country. Prices for restaurant food were up 5.4 per cent in March 2022 compared with March 2021, according to Statistics Canada, while prices for alcoholic beverages served in licensed establishments increased 3.6 per cent in the same period.

According to the industry group Restaurants Canada, before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada's food service sector was a $95-billion industry that directly employed 1.2 million people. During the more than two years of pandemic and varying levels of public health restrictions on in-person dining across the country, the industry lost hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in sales.

In a news release last month, Restaurants Canada said it continues to call for extended loan forgiveness and repayment to aid in the food service industry's revival.

The industry group said 80 per cent of restaurants have taken on debt due to COVID-19, and nearly two-thirds of these businesses say they will need at least a year-and-a-half to recover.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2022.

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