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Bonjour Quebec: Restaurant & F&B Innovation in La Belle Province


From her office in Toronto, Catherine Tadros, Chief Representative of Quebec, spearheads the province’s mission to foster robust inter-provincial trade and solidify political ties, with a special emphasis on the agri-food sector. Her team is dedicated to the lofty ambition of catapulting Quebec’s companies onto the Canadian, ensuring they are export-ready and poised to penetrate new markets in Ontario and Western Canada. Martin Vèzina, as the Vice-President of Public and Government Affairs at the Association Restauration Québec (ARQ), aligns with Restaurants Canada in advocating for and supporting Quebec’s foodservice operators. Both are devoted to championing the culinary and commercial spirit of Quebec.

The culinary tapestry of Quebec is a vibrant reflection of its deep-rooted history, weaving together French and English influences with the rich traditions of the First Nations and the diverse palates brought by immigrants from every corner of the globe. This melange of flavours is ever-evolving, as articulated by Tadros, who sees gastronomy as an indelible part of Quebec’s identity. Quebec’s food scene is marked by a celebration of life and a leisurely appreciation for the art of dining, epitomized by beloved chefs like Ricardo who foster a shared food culture. From an enduring fascination with healthy and novel foods introduced by New Canadians to a growing intrigue in Indigenous cuisine, Quebec’s gastronomy is a journey of taste and discovery at pace with its foodservice and F&B innovation industries. Tadros and Vèzina delve into the dynamics of local consumption, the pride in Quebec-produced goods, the status of the provincial restaurant industry and the culinary innovations that keep the province’s food
identity distinct and dynamic.

Quebec food identity. 

The rich history of Québec cuisine goes far beyond poutine and the « pâté chinois ». Quebecers are proud of their culinary heritage, which includes traditional recipes inherited from the French and English long before the founding of the New France, as well as recipes handed down by the First Nations and by immigrants from all over the world. Quebec gastronomy is an amalgam of these roots, but it is also constantly evolving. “Quebec has forever been attached to gastronomy, and it’s a big part of our identity,” Tadros explains. “We’ve also been agriculturally based as a means of survival since the beginning of our existence. When we think of Quebec food in more modern times, I think we’re a culture that loves and appreciates good food. We’re bon vivants and we love to take our time to eat, to taste and cook. We have many chefs who are well known by a large segment of our population, like Ricardo, who help unify and connect us through a common food culture. Quebecers have also long been interested in healthy foods and curious about new foods we experience through immigration. There’s also growing interest in Indigenous cuisine – what foods they eat and the techniques and seasoning they use.

Quebecers are proud of their food and beverages, and it shows in many ways. Aliments du Québec, a non-for-profit organization, manages the certification of Quebec-made products and brands with a visual seal of authenticity.  The organization’s two flagship brands – “Aliments du Québec” and “Aliments préparés au Québec” – are recognized by nine out of ten consumers, and two out of three Quebecers say they look for local certification logos when shopping for groceries. The Aliments du Québec mark is used by more than 1,700-member companies and more than 25,000 products. The organization also manages “Aliments du Québec on the menu”, a recognition program for restaurants and institutions that promote Quebec products on their menu, which is present in 891 restaurants and 637 institutions. Tadros attributes the success of the verification program to entrenched values around  supporting their community, pointing out that, “70 per cent of Quebec consumers believe buying local is important and actually,
34 per cent of them are willing to pay from one to five per cent more for local products. That demonstrates the commitment of

The ARQ sits on the Aliments du Québec board, and Vèzina highlights the importance of the labelling and “Aliments du Québec on the menu” programs. “The restaurant program identifies restaurants where 70 per cent of their menu is comprised of Quebec ingredients. We have also developed a catalog that identifies products that are made in Quebec to make it easier for operators to order local through their distributor.”

Tadros acknowledges that maple syrup is still one of the most recognized and sought-after imports. “It’s a classic. It was discovered by Indigenous people and today more than 70 per cent of the world’s maple syrup comes from Quebec. For us, maple syrup is an interesting cultural phenomenon. In March, it’s still common to go to the sugar shack and enjoy those special foods. It’s not as ingrained in Ontario, but it’s a really unifying event and after a long, brutal winter, we need the sugar. What’s really unique about the province, and what we see continually is the curiosity of the consumer and their willingness to try new things all the time. Even though we have maple syrup and poutine, there’s a great openness to trying new food and new restaurants.”

“In the last few years, we have really developed a specific and new Quebec culinary identity,” Vèzina points out. “Also, for Montreal, there’s something about a gastronomic or “bistronomic” restaurant scene that is very on-trend, but affordable. It doesn’t cost that much to eat in fine dining restaurants, which is fortunate. In Quebec, it’s very important to buy local. We have boreal produce, and our chefs develop that to create boreal cuisine on the plate.”

Boreal cuisine is a style of Nordic cuisine that’s been popularized in Quebec. It elevates ingredients native to the boreal forest, the province is known for. “Many chefs have been exploring boreal cuisine,” Tadros agrees. “It’s part of the natural, local food movement in the province and it ties in many aspects that are important to the consumer in much the same way people are looking toward Indigenous culture and food knowledge. Some of our great chefs like Jean-Luc Boulay and Arnaud Marchand have centred their culinary development around boreal cuisine. It’s a big theme and with that, Indigenous entrepreneurial ventures are also growing, particularly in the agri-food space. For example, The Warrior Blends is an Indigenous-owned company in the community of Wendake, and they make spices from traditional herbs and plants grown in the boreal region of Quebec.

Quebec restaurant industry. 

Quebec restaurants deliver $16 billion in revenue, which translates to about two per cent of the provincial GDP, and over 230,000 people work in the sector’s roughly 17,000 restaurants spread across the province. “Restaurants are everywhere,” Vèzina says. “We are the place where the community regroups and comes together to talk and connect. We estimate that foodservice buys about $4 billion in Quebec-produced food, so we are major impact players. The Quebec restaurant industry is mainly composed of independents – about 60 per cent of restaurants are independent – which is very specific to the province. People in Quebec like to really sit down to have a meal and interact with everyone, so there’s not as many fast food or counter-style restaurants.”

Vèzina shares that the experience of Quebec operators was much the same as the rest of Canada over the pandemic. Post-pandemic, takeout, delivery and meal kits have stayed as operators seek to grow their off-premise business, and just 18 per cent of Quebecers are looking to minimize meal delivery services. Pandemic restrictions led to the rise of ghost kitchens and the format continues to offer relief from overhead and operating costs.

“We are seeing a new way of thinking in the sector,” says Vèzina. “Maybe it has to do with the labour shortage we have in Quebec, but operating hours have changed and we’re no longer seeing restaurants open every day of the week. If you want lunch on a Monday, it can be difficult to find a restaurant to accommodate you.”

Quebec had labour challenges even before the pandemic, but they came to a head by the winter of 2021. According to Vèzina, during the lockdown employees began to exit the sector and found better-paid roles with more favourable hours elsewhere. “I knew cooks who left for the construction industry, we’ve lost many key employees, and managers are always in training mode.”

The industry had a good year in 2022, but the weather was terrible throughout the summer of 2023 and fall was soft. Vèzina is concerned about cost increases, and traffic decreases as he waits to see what 2024 will bring. “It rained every day last summer,” he says. “Quebecers like to eat outdoors during the summer. It’s part of our identity. But bad weather, inflation and interest rate hiking mean there are fewer people in restaurants.”

Quebec restaurants are responding to the new suite of challenges through menu innovation, and Vèzina is cautiously optimistic. “We’re seeing a new trend in fine dining with prix fixe tasting menus this year. It’s more manageable because you’re training fewer staff and it’s easier to manage your food stock, because you know how many scallops or steaks you will need. Other restaurants are streamlining their menus to reduce cost and manage their inventory and food cost. We’re seeing growth in restaurants offering diverse cuisines in Montreal – we have a lot of Thai and Vietnamese food – and we’re seeing a new, market-style cuisine as well as vegan and vegetarian.”

Tadros believes that, even though consumers in Quebec cook at home 57 per cent the time, which is more than in Ontario (35 per cent) or Western Canada (28 per cent), they’re also a little less likely to reduce their visits to restaurants as 51 per cent of Quebecers say they will reduce their visits in restaurants compared to 54 per cent for the rest of Canada1. “Eating is a huge part of Québec culture,” she says. “And many chefs like Ricardo, Marilou and Martin Picard are huge celebrities in Québec and influence the consumer’s choices.”

Eating out remains deeply rooted in Quebec’s culture, especially in Montreal. Consumers might prefer reducing the number of items they ordered or the cost of their average bill to giving up regular restaurant experiences.

Sustainability is also a big trend, that’s likely to stay, as 53 per cent of Canadians say they are buying more green and sustainable products in the last few years2. The trend is also evidenced in consumption habits as more than 70 per cent of Quebecers have bought or eaten foods containing plant proteins, despite only 27 per cent reporting a diet other than omnivore or carnivore, suggesting many Quebecers are consuming plant-based products for non-dietary reasons3.

“Many restaurant owners are thinking about their environmental impact,” says Vèzina, “from food packaging to food waste to their overall operation. We’re seeing changes and investments in alternative energy and usage reduction to a growing emphasis on local sourcing to a resurgence in canning and preserving produce.”

Quebec innovation.

Quebec, like everywhere else, is entering a sustained period of innovation and transformation as the restaurant technology and F&B industries reinvent themselves and rise to the occasion. Entrepreneurs are jumping in with new and unique products and services purpose-built to fill gaps in the post-pandemic business and consumer landscape.

AI is on the rise in restaurant tech and is being used to personalize consumer experience by Quebec companies like, which offers personalized restaurant recommendations based on consumer preferences and location and can even help restaurants manage and reduce waste and optimize operations. Alfred Technologies’ AI solution is a virtual sommelier that facilitates the procurement and inventory management of wines and spirits in the restaurant, hotel and entertainment industries. UEAT, an online ordering system uses an exclusive, QI-powered recommendation module, RAI™, that allows restaurateurs to create highly relevant, personalized, and non-intrusive online ordering experiences for their customers and provides operators with customer data and deep analytics.

Quebec F&B companies are also innovating to create solutions for the foodservice industry, with many working to develop sustainable products often by applying circular economic principles to create cost efficiencies or actual cost-saving products that reduce the need of labour or training. Local companies are also creating products from what would have been considered waste, like produce that doesn’t meet consumer aesthetic standards or edible by-products from the manufacturing of another F&B product. A related pocket of innovation is seeing new technologies implemented across the whole food supply chain to increase traceability, productivity and reduce the final cost of the products.

“I think we’ll become better and better and better on many different aspects of consumer experience and trying to tie the consumer and the restaurant together in a more efficient way,” says Tadros. “That will include a mix of technology and sustainability-focused innovations. Quebec entrepreneurs and businesses are working on how they can help improve the utilization of resources that will make us more efficient as an industry. Quebecers are very open to trying new things and producing the technologies and products that are needed to meet and deliver those efficiencies.” 

Vèzina points to more pedestrian changes in the restaurant technology landscape, but that promises to have a huge impact on foodservice businesses in the province. “Automated ordering and other efficiencies on the ordering side, like software development, delivery management and the flow of ordering and delivery are very big things in the industry right now,” he shares. “Restaurants learned they needed to be on all of the online ordering apps for takeout and delivery during the pandemic, but now they want to have their own online ordering systems they manage themselves.”

Another significant, near-term change is the implementation of a new, cloud-based reporting system for Quebec restaurants. Since 2010, the Quebec Revenue Agency has mandated that all bars and restaurants use hardware – a big blue box – that integrates with their POS to record and upload their daily sales transactions. “There will be a new, cloud-based model coming in 2024,” says Vèzina. “Many owners will need to change their POS to alternative options that work on a subscription basis. This may be more efficient, but it also may be more costly. It’s something the industry is watching.”

The multi-cultural fabric of Quebec and its Indigenous, French and English history make for a very creative society and dynamic industry. The province has seen extraordinary success with cultural exports like Cirque du Soleil which have provided a blueprint for new F&B brands to follow. “I think that Quebec can offer restaurants across the country new, innovative products and experiences to help them differentiate themselves,” Tadros says. “We don’t just eat to survive – there’s a social function to food.”

1.NIQ Canada, Home Meal Replacement Trend Syndicated Report 2023  
2.NielsenIQ Canada 2023 Sustainability Study

3.Léger, April 2022

Meet F&B innovation companies from Quebec in the Quebec pavilion at RC Show 2024.

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