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B.C. restaurants plan to reopen for indoor dining Tuesday with restrictions set to expire: industry

Last Updated May 21, 2021 at 1:44 pm PDT

FILE - A restaurant worker in Vancouver. (CityNews)
Summary

B.C. restaurant group says there's nothing stopping businesses from welcoming customers back inside on Tuesday

Circuit breaker restrictions set to expire at midnight on May 25

Industry group says word that restaurants will be able to provide indoor dining again is welcome news

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – With B.C.’s circuit breaker restrictions set to end after the long weekend, an industry representative says some restaurants will resume indoor dining on Tuesday.

Ian Tostenson with the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association says given the order is set to expire on May 25, there’s nothing stopping establishments from welcoming customers back inside.

“The premier is asking everybody to keep it muted for the weekend and we’re asking the same thing, and that’s why he didn’t say directly restaurants will be open on Tuesday. But they will be open on Tuesday, and in fact some restaurants will be open for breakfast on Tuesday morning,” he told NEWS 1130.

Tostenson says industry members are being asked to reopen their businesses under the same protocols that were set out before the circuit breaker was brought in.

“Which is distances and masks — just keep those protocols in place,” he said.

The restrictions, which include a ban indoor dining are set to expire at 12 a.m. Tuesday. So far, B.C.’s health officials have resisted the urge to say whether it’ll be extended, suggesting there will be a plan laid out and things will reopen slowly.

Speaking Thursday, Premier John Horgan was asked exactly people can expect on Tuesday.

“They can expect on Tuesday that the circuit breaker will be over and a road map will be laid out for all British Columbians to see,” he said.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry emphasized that restrictions will be lifted “slowly, but surely,” adding the end of the long weekend will not mean a return to pre-COVID times.

“Nothing is going to be back to 100 per cent on Tuesday. It’s not going to be a light switch. It’s going to be a dimmer switch,” she said.

 

Despite he and B.C.’s top doctor urged people to follow public health guidelines through the long weekend, with concerns about transmission.

Time to reopen

Since the end of March, restaurants have been forced to stop serving customers indoors. Establishments have been able to continue service on patios.

Tostenson understands that resuming indoor dining on such short notice may be a challenge for some businesses, with restaurants and other establishments now rushing to place inventory orders.

But he says the other consideration is staffing.

“A lot of people have left the industry all because of the uncertainty of the industry … and we’re working really hard to get them back, and that’s going to take a while too. So you may see restaurants that don’t open up to complete hours or they may have a bit more of a limited menu initially as we restart,” he explained.

Chef Alex Tung with Kitchen Table Restaurants says staffing will be a hurdle for his eateries.

“We’ve had staffing challenges for many years. But it’s definitely been amplified right now, as we’re sort of getting prepared to re-open after the ‘circuit breaker’ is sort of cancelled,” said Tung, who oversees restaurants including Ask for Luigi and Pourhouse in Vancouver.

“I didn’t really realize what percentage of people we actually lost to other industries. But that number is significant,” he said. “The pandemic’s been going on for the past 15 months. A lot of people that have been long-term employees with us have gone off to other sectors to work in. A lot of them have actually even moved away, moved into markets which are maybe a little bit less expensive to live in,” he added.

Tears of gratitude

Tostenson says the industry is looking forward to hearing about the province’s reopening plan. He notes word that restaurants will soon be able to reopen for indoor dining has been very well received by local business owners, who have had to navigate an incredibly challenging few months and full year.

“I had a call last night, I think this says it all, from a very prominent restauranteur in the city who had tears of gratitude that he can open. That’s how important it was. And he’s an established restaurant, so you can imagine how hard it was for those smaller restaurants that weren’t so established,” Tostenson said. “This means a lot to the industry. It’s the rebirth of an industry.”

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He says some people are even in disbelief with reopening just days away. However, with more people getting vaccinated each day and as daily case counts decline, he hopes this will be the beginning of a return to some semblance of normalcy.

“If we didn’t have the vaccines in place, this would be very difficult for us, for the whole entire province. But the vaccines are making a difference, and that’s just going to keep getting stronger and stronger. And with that is the confidence. I don’t foresee us closing again,” Tostenson said.

He’s encouraging people to keep their long weekend plans tame, to follow public health guidelines, and to get vaccinated if they can.

With files from Martin MacMahon