March 4, 2021 - This blog first appeared in The Walleye Magazine, March issue.
Thunder Bay has a strong relationship with food. From community food events like Northern Delights to the multitude of food and drink locations that showcase local entrepreneurism, one is likely to find the right match for any craving.
Of course, no one can deny that during the past year COVID-19 has influenced Canadians’ relationship with restaurants. In a University of Guelph study, researchers found that not only are people making more home cooked meals from scratch, 70 per cent of people reported that they are spending more time cooking at home. At the same time, this means that families will likely not be spending as much money on food service. However, this does not completely spell trouble. As the pandemic continues to play out, it is expected that restaurants will capitalize on delivery apps such as SkipTheDishes and Uber Eats.
Indeed, various restaurants in Thunder Bay have adapted to the new reality of food delivery platforms. And of course, a key component of this work are the food service drivers. In 2016, there were 300 delivery and courier service drivers in Thunder Bay. As well, the majority were between 35-54 years old, which is similar to other large communities in Northern Ontario.
Furthermore, while the median wage per hour for food service drivers in Northwestern Ontario was the lowest in the province ($16.00), it was higher than other places in Canada save for Saskatchewan, Alberta and the majority of British Columbia. Northeastern Ontario’s median was only slightly higher at $16.80 per hour.
In addition to online delivery, Thunder Bay has shown innovation in other ways. For example, the Sleeping Giant Brewery Company has launched their 3rd annual Craft Cares campaign. This initiative aims to donate $0.50 to local charities for each SGBC product sold at participating locations, many of which are restaurants with takeout options. Some of the charities that local restaurants have chosen to focus on include animals, youth and children, health, food accessibility and more.
Over the years, the City of Thunder Bay has focused on supporting local food. Starting in 2008 the Thunder Bay Food Charter was supported by the City and the District Social Services Board, which was followed a few years later at the Regional Food Summit by the recommendation of developing a Food Strategy. As well, there is EarthCare Thunder Bay’s Sustainability Plan, which outlines the goal of creating “a more just and sustainable local food system in Thunder Bay that promotes social justice and supports local production, storage, processing, sale and distribution of food.” Steps such as these help to make Thunder Bay a sustainable, food conscious community.
Overall, while COVID-19 has shifted the food landscape both here and elsewhere, people and restaurants are adapting as best they can. Furthermore, policies such as Ontario’s Supporting Local Restaurants Act, 2020, can help release some of the pressure restaurants are feeling. The Act outlines that for restaurants where indoor dining is prohibited, food delivery companies cannot charge more than 20 per cent for their rates on a transaction. While this is one step of many for our favourite restaurants, it takes a whole community.
Rachel Rizzuto is the Research Manager at NPI.
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