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Concerns grow for banquet hall, nightclub future as B.C. shutters facilities amid COVID-19

Last Updated Sep 9, 2020 at 6:23 am PST

(Courtesy Riverside Banquet Halls)

Banquet halls and nightclubs are set to take a hit because of new orders in B.C.

Critics warn people will still party despite banquet hall, nightclub shutdowns

Many are worried about how they'll be able to support themselves financially

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Nightclubs and banquet halls are facing a bleak future, a day after B.C.’s top doctor ordered them to close until further notice in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Many in the industry are criticizing the move, fearing they may never open their doors again.

“I’m actually very, very shocked,” Sukh Mann, president of the BC Banquet Hall Association, says of the announcement from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

He says banquet halls have the space to operate at 50 per cent capacity, with physically-distant seating and no dancing, however, they’re capped at a maximum of 50 people per function. He believes these types of facilities should be under the same rules as restaurants, which are open at half capacity.

“I don’t get this. Our business licence clearly states that we are under the restaurant category, and now we’re getting involved with nightclubs?” Mann tells NEWS 1130.

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“We haven’t even been allowed to dance for the last month at our banquet halls. People are dancing at the Indian parties, they’re dancing in their backyards, they’re dancing at the farms, at outdoor venues, and they’re dancing in tents. They’re using porta potties, they’re self-serving, catering,” he adds.

Mann worries about how those in the banquet hall industry will be able to support themselves financially.

“Our venues range from 4,000 to 50,000 square feet, and we’re still only allowed to have 50 people in our venue. How does that scientifically make sense?”

Capacity at 50 per cent

On Aug. 21, members of the BC Banquet Hall Association joined others in calling for a shut down of such facilities.

“The mounting pressure from customers and government threatening huge fines and even jail time has led BC banquet hall owners to join their counterparts on the east coast in asking the federal government for a complete shut down of their venues,” a release from the association, posted on Facebook by Aaj Magazine, reads.

The association noted in the release that it had “repeatedly asked for help and guidance from the provincial health officer and governments to help” come up with a banquet hall specific plan.

Quoting Mann, the release adds, “We have been given no guidelines on how to operate except to follow restaurant guidelines and in many ways that is (sic) been challenging.”

Now, Mann says that message was misinterpreted.

“The actual request that we put in a written proposal to Bonnie Henry was that we want to be treated what our business licence categorizes us as, which is a restaurant. So, we want 50 per cent capacity — which we feel we can do safely. We know we can safely protect our clients and our patrons,” he explains.

“What we don’t want to do is be limited to 50 people because, financially, that’s not feasible for us.”

Unintended consequences

Henry has also ordered liquor sales in all bars, pubs, and restaurants to stop at 10 p.m., with establishments expected to close for the night at 11 p.m.

Ian Tostensen with the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association says this move will likely force some businesses into permanent closures.

“We are concerned about those bar owners and nightclub owners, many who have done a great job at putting in safety standards into their places,” he explains.

“The other thing is Dr. Henry did actually mentioned restaurants are doing a great job and they are doing a great job. But the problem here … is after a restaurant and people want to do something, they head out to nightclubs and bars.”

Tostenson doesn’t think the 10 p.m. liquor sale cutoff will have a massive impact on restaurants. However, he believes the closures and changes could have unintended consequences.

“Now, we’re going to see people likely just going to have private parties. Buying their alcohol — we can get alcohol from the retail stores up until 11 o’clock — and then just deciding to go out and sort of do parties,” he says.

The Alliance of Beverage Licensees has raised similar concerns.

Although Tostenson says the new rule is necessary, but he blames a handful of “flaky” bar and nightclub owners that hadn’t been following safety protocols — for what may be the closure of many bars and clubs in the near future.

-With files from Vanessa Doban and Nikitha Martins