Restaurant owners around the Okanagan have been left frustrated and emotional after new COVID-19 restrictions shut down their indoor dining.
For some, it’s time to dust off their patios. For others without outdoor dining spaces or takeout options, the next three weeks will be challenging.
On Monday (March 29), provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced new restrictions affecting restaurants, gyms and religious groups. The province has halted indoor dining and liquor sales, indoor adult group fitness and indoor religious services until April 19. Patio dining and takeout, however, are still allowed.
Premier John Horgan said Monday that case counts have been “unacceptably high” in the past 10 days, and it is particularly people aged 20 to 39. Over last weekend, 2,500 new cases were recorded.
Meanwhile, Central Okanagan restaurant owners are speaking out.
“The second photo is what it looks like to be a business owner during COVID,” said Rustic Reel owner Susi Foerg, in a post on Instagram showing a photo with tears on her face.
Referencing her 20-plus staff at the Kelowna brewery and restaurant, Foerg said each of their livelihoods rests on her shoulders. The new restrictions will come with reduced revenue and reduced hours, and a fridge full of food will now likely go bad due to just 12 hours of notice given to them by the province. This, she said, will affect not only restaurants but their suppliers as well.
“We were so close to being able to get back to regular rent. This sets us back again, and it hurts me terribly.”
On Monday, Kelowna pub Doc Willoughby’s received a $2,700 food shipment, most of which will likely go to waste. Their patio seats just a few, and takeout isn’t really an option. Owner Dave Willoughby called the lack of notice, “disrespectful.”
“It’s just kind of disrespectful. It’s myopic and it’s my opinion they just don’t seem to understand that we need a little bit more time to kind of get our head wrapped around it and for people to make plans,” said Willoughby.
He asked the government not only for specificity regarding funding relief for the restaurant industry, but also asked them to not paint the entire province with the same brush; to consider regional restrictions where they are needed.
On the other side of the lake in West Kelowna, at 19 Okanagan Grill and Bar, frustrations are echoed.
Owner Neil Martens said the B.C. government’s “days of collaboration” with restaurants are over. While he does not envy the tough decisions the government is making, Martens said they do not include people enough in solutions.
“It’s a big public perception battle, and right now, they just need to be perceived as doing something, and so they’re taking the path of least resistance to go after restaurants, gyms and places of worship.
However, Martens is in a better spot than most, with one of the largest patios in the Okanagan. Between their partially-closed patio and open patio, they could seat 270, pre-covid. Provincial health orders now mandate that patios must only be filled to half-capacity or 50 people total, whichever is lower.
Even then, Martens is unsure whether patrons will fill those available seats. His staff will likely face reduced hours due to reduced shifts and fewer tables to fill.
He said the government has eroded the trust they have gained from their customers as being a safe place to go.
“The biggest challenges we’re going to be faced with is, restaurants are painted with a brush of being the root of all evil when it comes to spreading, and that is simply the furthest thing from the truth.
“I’m not concerned about having seating for people; I’m just worried about people’s perception, now that they think restaurants are unsafe, because of the brush that we’ve been painted with.”
Effective immediately, the Kelowna Chamber said it’s time to rally behind local businesses, especially restaurants.
“We understand that swift action is needed to curb the dangerous trend upwards, but government needs to find a way to provide more time for businesses to prepare for such sweeping orders which in this case come into effect with less than 12 hours notice,” said Dan Rogers, Executive Director of the Kelowna Chamber.
Rogers said more notice is needed to help “lessen the blow” to restaurants.
– With files from Tom Fletcher
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