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Hospitality industry shocked by short notice of New Year's Eve liquor sale cut-off

Last Updated Dec 31, 2020 at 9:24 am PST


New provincial orders came as a surprise for the hospitality industry gearing up for New Year's Eve

Dr. Bonnie Henry announced a ban on liquor sales in restaurants, bars, stores and other establishments from 8 p.m. NYE

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The hospitality industry is crying foul after the latest public health order from B.C.’s top doctor, which affects New Year’s Eve.

In a surprise news conference Wednesday afternoon, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced a ban on liquor sales in restaurants, bars, stores and other establishments from 8 p.m. on Thursday until 9 a.m. on Friday.

With New Years’ Eve reservations in place and extra food and drinks already ordered, the short notice of the order is what has many in the hospitality industry fuming.

“Shock, I think I was shocked to hear it coming out, you know, 24 hours prior to New Year’s Eve when obviously this is something that they would have had to have been having discussions about and planning for the past couple of weeks,” Don Falconer, general manager of food and beverage at Hotel Belmont in Vancouver tells NEWS 1130.

“Restaurants across the city have been taking reservations, making plans, spending marketing dollars, spending money on decorations and, party favours and whatever else, bringing in cases of wine and cases of champagne that they were planning to sell.”

Falconer adds the public health order hampers the ability of the hospitality industry to recoup the money already been spent for Thursday night. He says The Belmont spent between $2,000 and $5,000 for New Year’s Eve.

“We’re gonna have multiple cancellations. I had reservations at 8 o’clock and 8:30 and 9 p.m. that obviously, those ones, will be lost for sure,” Falconer says. “We were at about 80 per cent capacity for reservations [Thursday] night, I know many places in the city were already at 100 per cent capacity.”

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Bars are expected to close at 9 p.m. on New Year’s Eve — an hour after last call under the order while restaurants can stay open until 10 p.m. Alcohol sales have already been restricted across the province since September, when Dr. Henry issued a different provincial health order forcing bars, pubs, and restaurants to suspend liquor sales 10 p.m. and close their doors at 11 p.m. unless they’re providing full meal service.

Ian Tostenson, CEO of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association was also surprised after hearing about the new order.

“[Wednesday’s] announcement was almost as big a shock as when Dr. Henry closed restaurants back in the spring,” he tells NEWS 1130. “This was a day, [Thursday], for restaurants, they’ve been planning for. It was orderly, they’ve ordered, you know, their premium food, their premium alcohol, their champagne, their party favours and certainly within the context of, you know, all the protocols that were in place and acknowledged by Dr. Bonnie Henry [Wednesday] that restaurants have done a great job.”

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Tostenson says the order was made without consulting with the industry and the association plans to ask the provincial government to take back all the alcohol that was bought in anticipation of New Year’s Eve.

“It was not well thought out and it’s unusual for Dr. Henry to sort of be so arbitrary. Obviously, she’s being driven by some things that she knows that we don’t know.”

Henry said the order is meant to decrease the “late-night consumption of alcohol,” which can lead to “risky behaviour” like parties and large gatherings, resulting in the increased transmission of COVID-19.

“We are concerned that leading into New Year’s Eve, particularly in some of our resort communities in some of the areas that we have traditionally seen parties developed … often from a public health perspective that is fueled by people indulging a bit too much in alcohol,” she said Wednesday when announcing the order.

When asked about the short notice of the order, Dr. Henry admitted restriction on liquor sales for New Year’s Eve was something health officials had been considering for “some time.”

“It really was in discussion with my colleagues, with our team, that we felt given what we were hearing and seeing about what was planned for [Thursday] night, what we saw over the past weekend, that it was prudent for us to take some action,” she added.

While many online say they feel for the hospitality industry, caught off-guard by the new order, others say they were planning to spend New Year’s Eve at home anyway and support measures meant to limit the spread of COVID-19.

As of Dec. 25, WorkSafeBC received 33 complaints in regards to accommodation, food, and leisure services. Of the 1127 calls in total, 818 complaints were in health and social services, which is about 73 per cent.

-with files from Marcella Bernardo