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B.C. restaurants eye plans for recovery after tumultuous year

Last Updated Dec 22, 2020 at 6:31 am PST

FILE: Chairs are turned upside down on the bar at a closed restaurant, amid COVID-19 in Vancouver, on Tuesday, March 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

B.C.'s restaurants are optimistic for the new year after a tumultuous 2020 due to COVID-19

BC Restaurant & Food Services Association says the immediate goal is to get more people eating out, safely

Challenges remain for B.C.'s restaurants due to COVID-19 but association is looking at steps for 2021 to help recovery

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Just like every other industry, B.C.’s restaurants have struggled to stay out of debt this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But there is mild optimism things will get better in the new year.

Stakeholders have been meeting to try and figure out a recovery plan for 2021 but many things have to go right to ensure some restaurants don’t close for good.

Ian Tostenson with the BC Restaurant & Food Services Association says the immediate goal is to get more people eating out, safely.

“Look at expanded hours in the new year. The industry feels people will be better off with an hour or two to stay in a restaurant and to enjoy themselves in a restaurant setting, which is safer than letting them out at 11 p.m. when they might be inclined to go party, so that’s one short-term measure. Third-party delivery fees need to be capped. The government is looking at capping them at 15 per cent, they’re generally about 30 per cent for a restaurant. But as we look at delivery, which is such an important industry right now — in the next three to four months — getting those fees down to something that’s more affordable is key.”

On Monday, the provincial government announced a grant program to help small and medium businesses, including restaurants, apply for up to $30,000 owners wouldn’t have to pay back. However, that may not be enough help to keep restaurants open.

“People want to know now if they can invest in a patio and know it’s worth the investment over time,” Tostenson explains.

He says the increase to B.C.’s minimum wage in 2021 may be tricky for some restaurant owners to afford.

“It’s going up to $15.20 on June 1st and the industry feels quite strong they’re not going to be able to be in a position to be able to pay that and that could possibly put a lot of businesses out of business by increasing the labour charge. If we can move on [all] those things quickly, I think we’ve got a pretty good chance of looking for the industry to start to flourish sometime in late spring or early summer.”

Tostenson adds many eatery owners are barely hanging on right now.

“A lot of them are on the verge of having to close their doors. They don’t see a lot of hope right now, particularly, with these health orders that are hurting and they’re keeping people home,” he tells NEWS 1130.

“I’ve never seen people more discouraged. They generally have got ideas about the future but when there’s no business, there’s no business and they look to Dr. Bonnie Henry for that leadership to sort of open that up a little bit, responsibly of course, but as long as people are not eating out like they were before, it’s a big problem.”

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There are many safety precautions that have been put in place to keep restaurants safe and Tostenson says it’s very likely those rules will continue as we look ahead.

“I think you’ll always see, probably forever, high visibility of sanitation like washing hands, encouraging people to maintain their distance a little bit. You may see some of physical distancing going on in restaurants. A lot of people have learned that a little bit of distance between tables isn’t a bad thing … we’ve been able to employ plexiglass. I think you’ll see a lot of the protocols that are in place right now probably through to the end of 2021, including servers wearing masks.”

Tostenson says they’ll continue doing this because he feels it will take the public a while to get used to what will become our new normal while feeling comfortable in public spaces.

In the meantime, he’s hoping people will continue to grab pick-up, get delivery or purchase a gift card over the holidays, which is typically a busy time for restaurants, to help them stay afloat.