The new normal: Dining out in the Okanagan with COVID-19 - InfoNews

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The new normal: Dining out in the Okanagan with COVID-19

Vernon's Wings Tap & Grill is pictured, Tuesday, May 19, 2020.. At first glance it seems normal, but there's no stool at the bar, lots of signs and plenty of hand sanitizer.
May 19, 2020 - 7:30 PM

When doors opened at 11 a.m., West Kelowna’s Kelly O’Bryans had its first customer ready to restart the luxury of dining out.

“They were excited to get in and have a beer,” said Brad Shave, the owner and operator of the restaurant that’s been a neighbourhood staple for 12 years.

From that point forward, customers kept streaming in.

It was a long time coming, with restaurants and pubs across B.C. being closed by order of B.C.’s, medical health officer since mid-March in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. Today, May 19, the province’s restart got underway with the guidance of WorkSafe B.C. regulations aimed at reducing physical interactions and the spread of COVID-19.

“So far so good,” Shave said of the efforts made. “I’m thrilled and my staff is thrilled.”

All of the staff have had some serving in the time of COVID-19 training and physical changes to the layout of the restaurant have been implemented.

Tables have been removed and arrows added.
Tables have been removed and arrows added.

They include reducing the restaurant footprint by half, amounting to 145 seats, and reducing the washroom amenities so fewer people can use them at once.

“We also put protocols in place for customers to stop at the door, where we take their information for contact tracing,” he said.

This was only a WorkSafe suggestion, but they went with it, Shave said, to make both staff and customers feel comfortable in the new normal.

Shave has been following the news and said, like many others, he doesn’t feel these rules are going to relax until there’s a vaccination or herd immunity.

It’s something he admits will be tough on a lot of his peers that rely on in-place dining.

Customers are told to read the new protocols posted at the Longhorn Pub, Vernon, Tuesday, May 19, 2020.
Customers are told to read the new protocols posted at the Longhorn Pub, Vernon, Tuesday, May 19, 2020.

“I am in a unique position,” he said. “

We have a big space and we’ll have three different sections, with the patio.”

That amounts to a capacity of 145 people.

“A lot of small places will struggle, but I think we can be fine like this,” he said.

While some have already said they will struggle to stay afloat, others have found success pivoting to a different model. Right next door at Kojo, a popular ramen shop in West Kelowna and Penticton, the take-out business has been pretty brisk.

They are looking at, however moving to a dining in model closer to the summer.

Others were already well positioned to the change. In downtown Kelowna, Molly’s Cafe opened for the first time today with counter to ceiling plexiglass barriers by the order desk/cashier, most tables removed and barriers between booths. As a cafe where customers always had to read the menu off the wall and order at the front counter, it’s quite well suited to following WorkSafe B.C. guidelines for restaurants.

In Vernon, the Longhorn pub was doing a brisk trade in the mid-afternoon.

A bottle of hand sanitizer greets customers as they walk in. There's no plexiglass, or masks being worn, just a lot more signs and a lot less tables. One customer says they're very happy the pub has reopened.

There's no plexiglass hanging in front of the bar at Vernon's Wing Bar & Grill but all the bars stools have been removed to adhere to social distancing rules. There's also a bottle of hand sanitizer placed on the bar.

"For a Tuesday it's been pretty steady," kitchen manager Zach Ledrew tells

Every other booth is tapped off and arrows on the floor guide the way around. There's a couple of tables of people in drinking beers, and more heading through the door in the late afternoon. It seems quite normal and at first glance doesn't seem particularly different, but Ledrew points out the 355-seat restaurant and bar has been reduced to 104 seats.

While each restaurant is making the way back to operation at their own pace, there's a good contingent of establishments that are among those that are opening this week.

In Kelowna those include Train Station Pub, Doc Willoughby's Pub, Barn Owl Brewing, Earls, Wasabi Izakaya, Little Hobo Soup and Sandwich Shop, Skinny Dukes, Dakodas Pub.

In Vernon the Kalamalka Hotel is scheduled to open up this week, and Kelly O'Bryan's Restaurant opened today. If others are planning on opening soon, they don't appear to be advertising it.

— With files from Ben Bulmer and Rob Munro.

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