Red Tape

By Yeamrot Taddese

Liquor licence, check.  No smoking signs, check.  Elevator safety requirement, check.  Alarm system, check. Correct kitchen sink positioning, check.

If your regulatory compliance checklist looks like this, you’re probably less than a quarter of the way to completing your requirement before you could open a full-service restaurant.

In addition to hiring, firing, serving and purchasing, many restaurateurs have to deal with painstaking paperwork and scattered administration to stay in line with regulatory laws.

“[Restaurant owners] should be focusing on growing their businesses but they are stuck in their offices filling out forms,” Brandy Giannetta, a spokesperson for the Ontario Restaurant, Hotel & Motel Association, said.

“Regulatory burden is a huge restraint financially and on time.”

A survey conducted last year by the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association found that nine out of 10 restaurateurs feel red tape is huge problem for their businesses.

Giannetta said a one-stop shop for all hospitality licensing will make the process more streamlined. She added that a simpler way of communicating requirements will also be useful since restaurateurs are often unsure of what is expected of them.

“We’re not opposed to the regulations; safety is a number one priority for us,” she affirmed. “But each individual requirement should be made clear. It shouldn’t be a guessing game.”

Grilled Pit owner Victor Alvarez is thankful for having had experience in the hospitality business prior to opening his restaurant because “for someone who is new, it can be a bit of a guessing game.”

Looking back, he thinks the process of opening a restaurant could have been easier.

“[The procedures] are very cumbersome; you have to be very organized and detailed,” he said, frowning in discontent. “But what’s most frustrating is the wait [for permits].”

Walking around his restaurant, Alvarez is proud to show off his sticker from the Electrical Safety Authority.

Three years ago, he had to get a green light from officials before he could close off his restaurant’s roof lest he “break everything down” if he didn’t meet the electrical standards.

Like Giannetta, Alvarez said the regulations themselves aren’t a problem.

“If you follow all the regulations, you’re safe,” he said. “You have to comply for the safety of yourself and your customers.

“If there could be one department that can handle these procedures, it would be great.”

Giannetta said organizations like the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Labour, Workers Safety Insurance Board and Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario could work together to make the process easier for restaurateurs.

She highlighted that each newly imposed regulation doesn’t take into account how other regulations are affecting business owners.

“[Regulators] fail to take a look of the total regulatory burden placed on business owners,” she said.

Anabel Lindblad, spokesperson for the Ottawa-based Red Tape Reduction Commission, said partly because of the commission’s work, some of Giannette’s concerns are listed in this year’s federal budget.

Federal regulators, she said, will use a small business checklist to ensure that new regulations take into account the particular circumstances of small business owners.

The commission, created by the Harper government last year, is also working to increase transparency and predictability, Lindblad added.

“The government has made a commitment to post all regulatory consultations on the Consulting with Canadians web portal as well as in Canada Gazette.”

Lindblad added that the sharing of information allows business owners to not only foresee new regulations but also provide their inputs when regulations are designed.

Regulatory obligations vary from one municipality to another, requiring restaurateurs to start the process of obtaining a licence from scratch when they open a new restaurant in a different city.

Bruce Hawkins, a spokesperson for the City of Toronto’s Municipal Licensing and Standards, said the city is taking steps to make the licensing process more streamlined. He said most resources are now available online to help self-employed business owners save time.

“Licensees can now pay most invoices, including licence renewals, online, saving them a trip to the licensing office,” he said.

But for those like Alvarez, who would appreciate “some kind of manual” on what the requirements are and how to fulfil them, the city is still falling short.

“Why doesn’t someone write a book about how to do this?” Alvarez said jokingly.

Unlike Alvarez, who had to start his business from scratch, Abyssinia restaurant owner Sirak Ayele bought an establishment that was previously a small eatery.

In addition to having patrons walk in his restaurant since the day he opened, buying an existing operation also meant the previous owner could transfer most of his inspection approval stamps to Ayele.

“For me, it was like buying a car without tyres and then putting on the tyres myself,” Ayele said.

But now, Ayele wants to build a patio for his Bloor Street restaurant and his construction application has been in city hall for nearly three months.

“Every step you’re making, the city has to know,” he said. “If you want to knock down a wall, you have to go through a process.”

Ayele said an architect must first outline the design and pass it on to the city, which will issue the permit.

“Then they [the city] will check the construction every few days to make sure you are building space for the number of people you said you will.”

Ayele, who worked at a grocery store before opening his restaurant a year ago, said he is nonetheless happy with the city’s online resources.

“It took me two days to register my business because I did it online,” he said.

Before deciding to take on the paperwork all by himself, Ayele had contacted an accountant who could do the job for him.

“He [the accountant] asked me for $2,000,” Ayele exclaimed. “I said, ‘No!’

“I had the luxury of time, so I did it on my own.”

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