Restaurants from small independent groups to local chains are expecting to be hit hard by the three week “circuit breaker” lockdown imposed as the B.C. government tries to curb the spread of COVID-19.
“We were really hoping it wouldn’t come to this,” said Karina Martinez, owner and manager of Tacoholic in downtown Langley City.
As of Tuesday, Tacoholic is offering take out and delivery only. Like many small restaurants, it has no patio space, and with indoor dining now banned for three weeks, the restaurant is expecting to see an impact.
The change is frustrating for Martinez, who saw Tacoholic close to indoor dining a year ago in March, when the first wave of COVID-19 hit B.C.
Since then, as indoor dining was eventually allowed again with reduced capacity, she said she and her staff have done everything they can. Customers and staff have distanced, and staff have been busy sanitizing.
Yet despite all the hard work, they’ve had to close their dining area again.
Like many small storefront restaurants, Tacoholic doesn’t have a patio or the space for one – just a couple of chairs outside under the awning for people waiting for takeout to sit on.
“We feel the food industry is not the number one problem,” Martinez said about the spike in COVID-19 numbers that has driven the latest restrictions.
The “circuit breaker” was announced Monday by Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix in response to steeply rising infection rates. In addition to regulations on restaurants, group fitness classes are cancelled, students down to Grade 4 are to wear masks in class, Whistler Blackcomb ski resort was shuttered, and expected small church services for Easter will now have to be outdoors or virtual.
Joseph Richard Group CEO Ryan Moreno had been planning for a big announcement on Monday, but not the one from the government.
The head of the restaurant group, which has more than 20 locations under a variety of brands around Langley and its neighbours, had been ready to launch a “virtual food court” dubbed Canteen.
A delivery and takeout service from the many “ghost kitchens” operated by JRG, it turned out to be well timed, given the shut down of indoor dining.
“Seeing the rise in the [COVID] numbers… you’ve got to be living under a rock to think there wouldn’t be discussions about that,” Moreno said of the shutdown.
Like Martinez, he doesn’t think restaurants were the main culprit in the ongoing spread of COVID-19.
“You can count on one hand the number of exposures we’ve had,” he said.
Protocols around health and safety have become second nature for staff, he said.
Now, just as spring has arrived and dining out traditionally picks up after the slow months of January and February, restrictions will cut into revenues.
“It’ll be a massive hit to the industry for sure,” Moreno said. Locations without patios will be hit the hardest, he noted.
There will also be fewer hours for some workers, although Moreno said they’re trying to not to lay anyone off completely, and are trying to balance the financial impact of the indoor dining closures against their staff’s livelihoods.
“We’ve been exploring doing some delivery ourselves,” he said, noting that could allow more people to keep working.
Last year, JRG did some innovative partnerships to bring in customers safely, including pop-up flower stalls and working with the Krause Berry Farm.
Now it’s a question of how long the new restrictions last, Moreno said.
“Of course we’re crossing our fingers that the three weeks is actually three weeks,” he said.
At Tacoholic, Martinez is also hoping to get through the circuit breaker, saying loyal customers have stuck with them. At least they have the advantage of being a fast dining place, she said.
“Take out and delivery, it’s quite big for us,” she said.
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