Stage 2 proving to be a challenge for local establishments
Some of your favourite restaurants have opened over the past few weeks, but be prepared to wait for a table, with outdoor dining only and, maintained social distancing practices.
As Stage 2 of reopening businesses begins, local restaurants face the difficult task of maintaining physical distancing between groups, as well as being able to only open the patio section of their establishments.
After facing fines for allowing patrons to use some of the tables on the patio after receiving their takeout orders in the last days of Stage 1, rather than sitting in the Byward Market and leaving their garbage there, John Borston, co-owner of the Grand Pizzaria, among other Ottawa restaurants, is glad to be able to open under the Government of Ontario’s plan to allow restaurants to reopen.
However, Borston would have preferred to see the government take a similar approach to Quebec and allow indoor dining. The Grand’s owner says that most restaurants take proper cleaning precautions and that the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) already has mechanisms to fine and shut down those who don’t follow the rules.
In Quebec, restaurants are allowed to let patrons sit inside their establishment as long as they can respect physical distancing rates. Quebec is allowing restaurants and bars, provided that the clientele is seated, to resume their operations.
He also points out that the unpredictability of the weather presents extra challenges, as a rainy day means closing the entire patio. A rainy day would also impact the scheduling of his staff, as a closed patio means there is no need for servers.
While delivery and takeout sales increased threefold at the Grand during Stage 1, overall sales were down by 80 per cent, with only a little over 10 per cent of his staff able to work. Opening the patio at the Grand, along with the temporary expansion of the patio without the usual fees to the AGCO, means Borston is able to operate at roughly 80 per cent capacity, even with social distancing. After two weeks of being open under the Stage 2 regulations, sales have been back up to about 40-50 per cent of normal sales pre-COVID-19.
Lolly Fimoes, part-owner of The House, a local bar on the corner of King Edward and Somerset, is excited to reopen for Stage 2, after not being closed for three months. With a clientele of around 90 per cent students, she expects some loss of business this summer with students remaining outside of Ottawa, but she does expect those in Ottawa to be excited to return to their favourite bars and restaurants.
“Students want to resume their lives,” said Fimoes.
Since reopening, The House has been able to accommodate roughly 25 per cent of regular capacity, but a major loss of opportunity stems from the fact that there are currently no courses on campus. More of a social gathering spot for students after classes, the lack of students on campus and in the city has hit business hard for the bar.
Fimoes also agrees that the government should allow restaurant owners to open indoors as well, as long as they are able to maintain social distancing and proper cleaning practices. She says that if people want to come dine, they should be allowed. “It’s time to let people be responsible for themselves, people should have the option to dine inside if they so choose.”
Both Borston and Fimoes pointed to the importance of the government’s rent and employee wage subsidies in helping restaurants through this difficult period. With restaurants shutting down and many struggling to stay open, even with these programs in place, both hope to see the programs extended into the future to ease the burden of this pandemic.