VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Local businesses are reeling following news the province is bringing back a ban on indoor dining at B.C. eateries due to a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases.
As of Tuesday, indoor dining will not be allowed at eateries, with patios and take-out being the only options permitted until at least April 19.
Margot Baloro with Forage restaurant in Vancouver says she’s not sure just yet what they’re going to do.
“Even with the temporary expedited patio permits that the City of Vancouver facilitated last year, and with the re-emergence of those this year, that doesn’t mean a lot of seats,” she said.
Related article: B.C. pauses indoor dining, religious gatherings, closes Whistler as COVID-19 cases rise
“Depending on the restaurant, it could be not enough to be open, per se,” she added.
She notes patio seating is largely dependent on weather.
“It’s hard for us to make a reservation on a patio table and then have the weather change. And having brought staff in and so on, it’s tough on guaranteed revenue,” Baloro said.
Many eateries, especially local ones, have already taken a hit over the last year with varied COVID-restrictions. Baloro says the weeks ahead are going to be a challenge.
“We’re in a situation where we’re going to have to look at what that involves for our staff and for our business … but three weeks is a lot,” she said, noting last time, they had to make a number of changes including letting some staff go.
‘We could lose maybe 30 per cent of the industry’
We could see many eateries shut down because of these restrictions, according to the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association (BCRFA). There are 15,000 restaurants with the association.
“We think that we could lose maybe 30 per cent of the industry,” Ian Tostensen with the BCRFA said. “This is probably that catalyst that’s just going to say to people, ‘You know what? It’s not worth it. We were spending everything, our life savings, everything we have for the future of our business … and now the hope is gone.”
He says the community needs to take responsibility and get its act together to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“We collectively all have to get on this and deal with this. This wouldn’t be happening if we just shut down our social networks … Now it’s getting serious. We’re talking about businesses going under because a certain element of the population don’t want to pay attention to the rules,” he said.
Jeff Guignard with the Alliance of Beverage Licensees (ABLE BC) echoes Tostenson’s sentiments.
“This hurts, not just financially — which it does a lot, particularly for an industry that’s already pulled every lever we can to get this far. But it hurts so much because we’re close to the finish line and going backwards because some people are not following the rules,” he said.
He insists the spread of the novel coronavirus isn’t primarily happening in pubs and bars, but rather at gatherings people are having on their own time.
“We have all the protocols in place to keep people safe … But Dr. Henry’s trying to drive home a very strong message today that you need to limit your gatherings. She’s targeting places where people gather. From our perspective, we are now caught up in this. It’s something that isn’t our fault because the patrons that are coming in in that age group are not following the rules in their personal lives.”
More than 2,500 new COVID-19 infections were recorded in B.C. over the weekend. Six more people have died.
‘Transmissions aren’t coming from restaurants to guests’ says BCRFA
When indoor dining was banned last year, many businesses suffered and struggled to stay open. Tostensen says although patio dining, take-out, and delivery means eateries can continue to operate, “it’s certainly not going to make up the loss of in-store dining.”
He expects to hear about layoffs and perhaps even some small businesses having to close down.
“Businesses won’t be able to make payroll,” he said, noting many local eateries care deeply about their staff.
“They’ll try to do what they can and keep them on, but three weeks is a long time without revenue coming in appreciable. The kitchen staff will be alright because they’ve got to do take-out and delivery. But this will accelerate some closures.
Tostensen is disappointed with the restrictions announced by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Monday.
“The transmissions aren’t coming from restaurants to our guests. The transmissions are within the social/staff environment in the industry,” he argued.
For its part, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business is hoping the province will provide more supports to the restaurant industry and other small businesses, which has already been struggling for the past year.
-With files from Miranda Fatur and Kurtis Doering