Shocked, frustrated and resolved to make it work; B.C.'s restaurants take it on the chin again | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Shocked, frustrated and resolved to make it work; B.C.'s restaurants take it on the chin again

FILE. Chairs and bar stools are stored at a pizza restaurant.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
March 30, 2021 - 6:30 PM

Mark Filatow was caught off guard Monday when he first heard restaurants had to shut down their indoor dining rooms that night.

“I was quite surprised, but looking at what has happened with case counts, it makes sense,” the owner of Waterfront Wines, a Kelowna fine-dining establishment, said, Tuesday, March 30, after hearing that provincial health orders prohibiting indoor dining were coming into effect immediately in response to COVID-19 case counts spiked dramatically over the preceding five days. 

The province also said breweries that serve appetizers and snacks — but no full meals — will have to close entirely unless the business arranges for food to be consumed on a patio through partnerships with food-trucks or restaurants. Group fitness classes and indoor church service also are on hold.

Helping soften the blow dealt to his already beleaguered industry is the fact the limitations are for a set period of time — three weeks— and there are things that can be done to mitigate the losses, like keeping take-out service on weekends. Waterfront, like others, however, won’t be able to offer patio dining at the moment, due to the weather.

“It’s good and it’s bad,” he said of the provincial health orders. “If it helps us get through this, get vaccinated, we can get back to normal without having to shut down again, that’s good.”

And, he added, last summer was actually quite successful in his industry, for better or worse.

His greatest concern lies with wait staff, who already were out of pocket for three months last year and are now abruptly going to be left short three works work.


Ian Tostenson, the president/CEO of the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association said that’s a concern right across the province.

“You can’t take a part-time worker, working hour-to-hour in a difficult situation and say, ‘by the way, I will see you in three weeks,’” he said.

“I heard someone say, ‘I wish I had more shifts so I could pay my rent,’ then someone gave up a shift to help them do that,” he said. “That’s how close to the edge our workers are living.”

And he pointed out, if there isn’t great staff there isn’t a great restaurant. To that end, he’s hoping the federal government will come forward with some funding and fast.

“Before it was CERB, we don’t know what it will be now,” he said.

That aside, Tostenson also understands why the restrictions were put in place.

“I think we’re sad and disappointed that with all this work the industry has done in the last 13 months, it got closed not for reasons that the restaurant industry caused itself,” he said.

“A large percentage of our workforce is in the 20 to 40 age cohort and the government has recognized that as high-risk group. As a result, we started to see staff-to-staff transmission and more and more restaurants have had to shut down because staff being infected.”

From that point of view, he said, it was an understandable choice to close.

Many members of the BCRFA have come out within the Okanagan and said they would have preferred regionalized restrictions. The Penticton Chamber, also, is asking Dr. Henry to consider regional restrictions “rather than penalizing the entire province,” and said these consequences outweigh the risk given how hard restaurant owners and employees are working to keep everyone safe.

Bradley Shave, the owner of the West Kelowna Kelly O'Bryans, also said shutdowns should be regional.

"It’s not bad here, in the Lower Mainland it is — shut it down there," Shave said, adding there's no rhyme or reason to the new restrictions which were forced into place abruptly with 11 hours notice, much like the New Year's Eve early shutdown.

"They say inside gatherings are causing all the problems, while we have spent the last year making sure that it's not causing a problem in our restaurants," he said. "Now (young people) will go back to house parties."

Tostenson, however, like provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, can see the rationalization for one rule across the province.

“In Ontario, you can demarc areas quite easily, in B.C. it’s more blurry,” he said. “You get people travelling... so one rule right across B.C., I kind of understand that.”

People have a hard time understanding rules on a general basis, he said, let alone when they’re different from one town to the other. 

Also, it’s not as though this area has proven immune to the issues of Lower Mainland restaurants. It’s been said that the Big White outbreak which dragged on for months started among restaurant workers who were living in close quarters, similarly to what’s happened at Whistler.

The question now is how the industry can turn these three weeks into an opportunity for businesses.

Already, he said, the losses are stacking up and it's estimated they will probably lose $500 million in business and that’s 50,000 to 60,000 people laid off temporarily.

“There were a lot of costs that were incurred on food that’ll not be used, that would have been used for Easter weekend,” he said.

“The damage is real and we need the public to understand what is right for B.C. to get all of us back. We can cut out social (activity), we can’t keep doing this stuff... we have to put our chins up and be part of the solution in B.C.”

To that end, he’s hoping people get takeout and delivery, or even pick up themselves because that’s the easiest on restaurants. He also recommends getting gift certificates for Easter or the summer, and, of course, head out to a patio.

Others are also hoping to amplify that message.

"The onus is on all of us to support local — use take-out and delivery, and once enhanced patios are in then that will offer more solutions,” Carl De Santis, executive director of Kamloops Central Business Improvement Association said.

Filatow from Waterfront wines pointed out that it's worth keeping in mind that take-out doesn't lend itself to saving all. A place like Waterfront Wine doesn't often offer that service, and it's not top of mind when people think about what they're going to take home like, for example, a place like Dominoes is.



A post shared by @skinnydukes


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