Restaurants Canada Just Gave Every Province a Letter Grade on Their Liquor Laws (And it’s Bad)

It’s not easy to be a restaurant or bar owner.

But apparently, unnecessary liquor regulations are making it even more of a challenge for Canadian establishment owners to do business.

In fact, in a recent report card from Restaurants Canada, the association that represents food service businesses across the country, not one province received an “A” grading.

The report was based on a survey of its members.

It appears that the biggest hindrance is the price its members are forced to pay for beer, wine, and spirits. Most must pay retail prices for the alcohol they serve their customers – sometimes even more. Unlike other industries, there isn’t a way to purchase supplies at wholesale prices.

Naturally, this means that owners need to hike up their prices for booze (and that’s not ideal for anyone).

But the high alcohol prices aren’t the only concern; bar owners also cite what they see as outdated regulation. Admittedly, some of these regulations are quite surprising. For example, in some parts of the country you can’t even order a drink unless it’s accompanied by food, while in others (where we’d probably never want to party), it’s illegal to stand up while consuming alcohol.


According to Restaurants Canada president Donna Dooher, the liquor distribution system in most provinces is designed to generate the maximum possible revenue for governments. She says that loosening or modifying the rules would help boost the health of the whole industry by expanding employment and generating taxes in other ways.

Not to mention, varying liquor laws across the country make it difficult for national chains to function.

So, which province received the highest rating? That honour goes to Alberta. The province’s more privatized model for liquor distribution allows competition in liquor distribution and enables wholesale pricing to restaurants and bars.

You can read the full rankings here, but this is a breakdown of Restaurants Canada final grades for each province:

British Columbia: C+
“Despite its effort at regulatory improvements, B.C. gets a “C+” on this year’s report card. Until B.C. allows its liquor licensees to access wholesale pricing and until they are allowed to purchase liquor from private retailers, there is little motivation to improve that grade. The government’s recent liquor review consultations and resulting regulatory changes are welcome, but they must translate into purchasing policies that benefit all stakeholders.”

Alberta: B+
“To remain best-in-class, Alberta must modernize antiquated liquor laws, reduce minimum case ordering requirements and reverse the planned phase-out of the liquor server differential.”

Saskatchewan: D+
“So there have been improvements in Saskatchewan and they have been positive, but the piecemeal approach to regulatory reform does not allow for measurable savings to the food and beverage service industry. Without savings at the wholesale level there can be no positive outcomes for the consumer who pays retail with every order of wine, beer, or spirits.”

Manitoba: C
“Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries (MBLL) maintains a wholesale monopoly and exclusivity on the sale of beer and spirits to the businesses serving food and alcohol. With some minor exceptions, MBLL determines pricing for all wine, beer, and spirits. Where there is no room for negotiation, the price of a product is set. This eliminates the potential for consumers to benefit from price reduction and enhanced choice. It’s what earns Manitoba its “C.””

Ontario: D+
“The recent, highly publicized consultation with government did very little for our industry. In fact, the province took Restaurants Canada’s recommendation to allow licensees to sell sealed, take-home draft beer containers (growlers) and turned it into a new revenue source for the LCBO.”

Quebec: C+
“The government’s predisposition to change and its commitment to reduce red tape works to the benefit of Québec consumers. It represents modernization for the good of all stakeholders.”

New Brunswick: C-
“Like its counterparts in the rest of Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick has laws that warrant change. How about this one? If you’re in a restaurant and you want an alcoholic drink, you must sit down to consume it. If you are on the patio, no bottle or cans for you, but you can drink from a bottle inside the establishment.”

Nova Scotia: C+
“It’s the province with the highest HST in Canada. Its minimum wage laws include liquor servers despite their opportunity to earn more, because of tips, than a typical employee collecting minimum wage. And, of course, government should eliminate the dated law that requires a working kitchen in every establishment that serves alcohol.”

“On Prince Edward Island, the consumer is better served thanks to the collaborative working relationship between government and the food and beverage service industry. There, government appreciates our industry’s contribution to the Island’s economy specifically through its support of tourism and employment creation. PEI is the only province, other than Alberta, with a comprehensive wholesale discount program on all products.”

Newfoundland and Labrador: F
” the heart of the “F” awarded to Newfoundland and Labrador is the need for major change that recognizes the realities and contributions of the food and beverage service industry. Instead of being treated like partners or customers, business owners are treated as entities that need to be policed. What message does it send when NLC inspectors show up wearing uniforms, flak jackets and utility belts?”