The eclectic mix of cultures in Canada has created an equally eclectic mix of restaurants in Canada, serving Canadians foods from all over the world. In Canada, you can find unique family-run restaurants, places serving local delicacies, and restaurants operating as part of large international chains. There is certainly something for everyone.
However, the restaurant industry in Canada was one of the hardest hit industries together with the accommodation industry when COVID stopped people from going out. How did the pandemic impact the restaurant industry and how has the industry recovered from the COVID years?
In this article, we look at restaurant industry statistics in Canada from before the pandemic, during the pandemic, and after. You will also find statistics on employment numbers, which city has the most restaurants per capita, and what the largest food chains in Canada are.
Restaurant Industry Statistics for Canadians
- In 2022, Canada had 97,569 food and drink establishments.
- Before COVID, the restaurant and accommodation industry employed 1.2 million people in Canada.
- In March 2020, restaurant sales were $4 billion compared to $6.2 billion in March 2019.
- Over two-thirds of restaurants were operating at a loss in Canada at the start of 2021.
- Post-pandemic data show Canadians have returned to restaurants with sales of $6.8 billion in March 2022 and $7.7 billion in March 2023.
- There were three times as many vacancies in the restaurant industry in 2022 compared to before the pandemic.
- 80% of Canadian restaurants had to take on debt during the pandemic.
- Victoria has 4.6 restaurants per 1,000 residents, the highest per capita in the country.
- Tim Hortons is the largest restaurant chain in Canada with 3,531 restaurants across all provinces and territories.
Restaurant Industry in Canada
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the accommodation and food service sector in Canada directly employed 1.2 million people and around 273,400 people indirectly. It had a revenue of $79 billion, which accounted for 1.5% of the country’s GDP.
The food and accommodation industry accounted for 6.4% of Canada’s total employment in 2019. According to Statista, in 2021, the industry had a market size of $40.134 billion and it was predicted to grow to $55.089 billion in 2022.
The Canadian restaurant industry experienced rapid growth between 2006 and 2016 when restaurant sales grew far faster than the population at 50% compared to 11.4%. In 2022, there were 97,569 food and drink establishments in Canada and 98.5% of them had between 0 and 99 employees. The number of daily food and drink place visits is approximately 22 million, and 54% of Canadians eat out at least once per week.
Canadian Restaurant Industry Statistics Before COVID
In March 2019, a year before the COVID pandemic disrupted life around the world, the restaurant industry in Canada was experiencing steady growth. The food service and drinking places sales were $6.2 billion in March 2019, up 1.2% from the previous month.
Sales in limited-service restaurants were up the most at 1.9%, while Alberta and British Columbia saw the biggest increases in sales. Restaurant food prices were up 2.8% compared to the same month in 2018 and alcoholic beverages prices were up 2.1%.
During the COVID-19 Pandemic
The pandemic was quick to hit the restaurant business with sales in March 2020 only reaching $4 billion, down 36.6% from the previous month, which was the last normal operating month before the pandemic closed business across the country.
Drinking places were affected the most with sales down by 55.8%, followed by full-service restaurants where sales fell by 48.6%. However, as restaurant and drinking place alcohol sales dropped, sales of alcoholic beverages at supermarkets and grocery stores increased by 27.1% and at beer, wine, and liquor stores by 17.5%.
Restaurants that offered limited service were the least affected but even they saw sales fall by 23.8%. Their results were supported by takeout and delivery services. Among special food services, covering contractors and caterers serving, for example, business and school cafeterias, sporting events and concerts, weddings, and conferences, sales fell by 33.8%.
The largest declines were seen in Quebec, British Columbia, and Ontario, where sales fell by 39.6%, 37.6%, and 36.9%, respectively. These three provinces were among the first to impose restrictions on gatherings and then to close all non-essential services. Manitoba, where restrictions came into force later than in other provinces saw the smallest drop in sales. However, the sales still fell by 30.4%.
In March 2021, the restaurant industry sales were only a little better than in the previous year, with sales of $4.9 billion. Compared to March 2019, sales were 23.3% lower. However, sales were up by 9.8% compared to the previous month showing signs of recovery.
Full-service restaurants and drinking places saw the biggest improvement at 15.8% and 15.3% respectively. Among the provinces, Ontario had the biggest increase in restaurant and drink sales at 14.1%.
Over Two-Third of Foodservice Businesses Operated at a Loss in January 2021
In 2020, 86.5% of businesses in the food service industry reported lower revenues than before the pandemic. This was higher than the average for all businesses at 60.5%. 67% of food service companies were operating at a loss at the start of 2021 and 15% were just breaking even. Quick-service restaurants were doing better than table-service restaurants, with 37% operating at a loss compared to 71%.
At that point, four out of ten independent restaurants said they would have to close permanently if the situation did not change in the next six months. Half of the chain restaurants said they would have to close at least one of their restaurants if the situation did not change.
After the Pandemic
By March 2022, the Canadian restaurant industry had been back to normal services for a while and this was reflected in the sales of $6.8 billion. The sales were up by 6.5% compared to February 2022.
Drinking places saw the biggest sales increase at 23.1%, followed by special food services at 11.6%, full-service restaurants at 11%, and limited-service restaurants at 0.9%. While the increase is small for limited-service restaurants, it has to be remembered that they were not affected by COVID-19 to the same extent as the other services were.
Compared to March 2021 and March 2020, the March 2022 sales were up 35% and 62.9% respectively. They were 4.9% higher than they were before the pandemic in March 2019. Restaurant food prices were up 5.4% compared to the previous year and alcoholic beverages by 3.6%.
In March 2023, the restaurant and drinking place sales were $7.7 billion. Compared to the previous March, sales were up 14.5%. While this is higher than the year before, it was 2.2% lower than in February 2023. Drinking place sales decreased the most at 8.5%, followed by limited-service restaurants at 4.4%. Restaurant food prices were 7.2% and alcohol prices 4.6% higher than the year before.
Restaurant Industry Employees
Most of Canada’s restaurant industry employees work in full- or limited-service restaurants. Statistics from before the pandemic show that 58.8% of permanent employees were women and 30.2% were immigrants. Out of the temporary workers within the sector, about half had not been born in Canada.
A quarter of the employees were between 15 and 24-years-old. 22% of Canadians start their working life with a job in a restaurant. This is the highest percentage of first-time workers among all industries in Canada.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left many restaurants and other food service businesses short of staff. The number of vacancies within the industry was 171,715 in June 2022, which was three times as many as the average before the pandemic.
To respond to the staff shortages, 72% of restaurants had owners and management-level staff working more hours, while 64% had reduced their opening hours. 77% of restaurants had tried to attract employees with higher wages.
Ontario has the most employees working in the restaurant industry, with approximately 497,400 employees. It is followed by Quebec, with 277,400 employees, and British Columbia with 169,300 employees.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, 80% of Canadian restaurants have debt, with almost two-thirds of these companies saying they will need at least 1.5 years to recover. Of the 80% of restaurants that had taken on debt, 23% of the restaurants had borrowed less than $50,000, 44% had borrowed between $50,000 and $100,000, and 35% had borrowed more than $100,000.
Victoria Has The Most Restaurants Per Capita
Victoria is often referred to as a foodie city. Considering the number of restaurants per 1,000 residents in the city, it is understandable why it has earned this reputation. The city has 4.6 restaurants per 1,000 residents. Vancouver comes next with 3.6 restaurants per 1,000 residents, followed by Niagara Falls with 3.4, and Montréal with 2.7. Kelowna, with 2,6 restaurants per 1,000 residents, completes the top five.
Based on pre-pandemic data, 50% of Canadian restaurants were full-service restaurants, 44% were fast-food places, and 6% were bars. Ontario has the highest number of full-service restaurants with 14,975 businesses, Quebec is next with 8,968, and British Columbia is third with 6,695.
Biggest Food Chains in Canada
While the number of restaurants by global food giants is increasing in Canada, Tim Hortons is still the biggest chain food restaurant in the country. The company currently has 3,531 restaurants in Canada and is the only chain food company other than KFC, with restaurants in every Canadian province and territory. Ontario has the most Tim Horton restaurants, with 1,775 restaurants, accounting for almost 50% of the total number of restaurants.
Subway has the next most restaurants in Canada with 2,913 restaurants. 1,090 of Subways are in Ontario, which is 37% of the total. Starbucks comes in third with 1,423 stores in Canada. Once again, Ontario has the biggest share at 43%, which is 616 stores.
Mcdonald’s and A&W are the fourth and fifth largest chains in Canada. McDonald’s has 1,371 and A&W 1,046 restaurants. 36% of all McDonald’s and 30% of A&W restaurants are in Ontario, which is 493 and 310 restaurants, respectively. Other large restaurant chains in Canada are Dairy Queen with 713, KFC with 648, 7-Eleven with 601, Domino’s Pizza with 594, and Pizza Hut with 554 restaurants.
The restaurant industry in Canada has been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with many operating at a loss while people could not visit restaurants. While sales have improved since the pandemic and even overtaken sales from before the pandemic, restaurants face staff shortages and higher food prices following the pandemic.
Frequently Asked Questions
Before the pandemic, in 2019, according to a household spending survey in Canada, households were spending $2,775 per year on restaurant food. That included both eat-in and takeaway meals. The latest figures for the restaurants and drinks industry show total sales of $7.7 billion in March 2023.
Based on the number of restaurants, Tim Hortons is the most popular restaurant in Canada. The food chain has 3,531 restaurants in Canada with locations in every province and territory. Subway and Starbucks are the second and third most popular based on the number of restaurants.
According to data from the Government of Canada, 58% of restaurants are profitable, with an average revenue of $646,000.