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B.C. restaurants work to answer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s call to find ways to reopen dining rooms

The B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association is looking at ways to reopen dining rooms.
The B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association is looking at ways to reopen dining rooms.

When provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talked about finding innovative ways for restaurants to resume operating in a few weeks’ time, the association that represents the industry was all ears.

Henry made her comments during her daily COVID-19 update Monday, April 20, just days after the B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association had started talking internally about coming up with a plan to present to the province, president and CEO Ian Tostenson told

“We’re going to meet (Wednesday) with about 25 people from around the province, to try to chart an exceptional plan that has really high standards in terms of public expectation and public safety,” he said.

Henry was asked, at the briefing, if she might allow restaurants to open this summer.

“I think there’s lots of innovative ways that we can have in-restaurant dining that protects both the staff and the people coming in and I’m looking to industry to come up with those ideas of how this could work,” she answered. “It’s going to be a challenge, I understand, for many, particularly for small restaurants, in the coming months.”

What she didn’t say – and what the restaurant association wants to talk to her about – is whether they will be limited to 50 customers at a time so they can comply with her ban on large gatherings or whether the numbers might be based on some square footage formula, Tostenson said.

“The very first thing that has to happen is that we have to have very, very high visual clues when you walk in a restaurant that something’s changed, that sanitation and hygiene are at the top of the list,” he said. “The expectations of the guests in the restaurants will be really high so we have to hit that benchmark in terms of operating.”

Not only do diners have to feel confident that they are in a safe environment, but the operators have to be able to survive on what will likely be a smaller customer base.

“It can be all sorts of things,” Tostenson said. “How you reintroduce your menus so that you’re selling items that have got some profit to them. How, maybe, you can utilize and parallel your patio if you have one. How you utilize and make more profitable your take-out and delivery business.”

About 10 per cent of restaurants have closed permanently in B.C., he said, but that could rise to 20 to 25 per cent as the lockdown continues.

It’s a choice between losing a lot of money, being close to breaking even or even making a bit of money, he noted.

At this point, everything is up from discussion. If, for example, there have to be plexiglass barriers at bars to protect the workers, that’s a possibility.

“This is stage one,” Tostenson said. “This is not, as Dr. Henry said, the permanent plan. So how well can we do this? Let’s do this exceptionally well so that we can get the confidence of the public and the confidence of Dr. Henry, ultimately, and then she’ll say, OK, let’s go to 100 people, or let’s start operating a bit more towards capacity.”

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