Why some restaurants and bars say fast-tracking patios won't save them | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Why some restaurants and bars say fast-tracking patios won't save them

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May 15, 2020 - 6:30 AM

There's a buzz going around B.C.'s towns and cities as governments across the province begin to eye relaxing the rules around patios as restaurants and bars are allowed to reopen.

The City of Kelowna has been in discussions with the Downtown Kelowna Association about restaurants utilizing outdoor spaces and sidewalks. Mayor Colin Basran has said the City is even looking at possible street closures.

The City of Vernon has been talking to businesses about exploring outdoor options and staff are currently working on a report due at council May 25, which will address aspects of al fresco dining.

But as restaurants, cafes and bars count down the days before they can officially reopen under provincial health guidelines, the prospect of streets in the Interior resembling anything like their Parisian counterparts seems highly unlikely.

Midtown Bistro owner Kelly Lacroix said her current patio, which normally seats eight people, with social distancing rules would only allow for two diners.

"I can't just afford to make my patio bigger, because I've already paid $3,000 for the railings that are already out there," Lacroix said. "I don't have more money to do that."

Opening up again would require servers, bar staff and a bathroom attendant, all overheads she says she can't afford.

And the Vernon restaurant owner said even with more space outside it wouldn't make it feasible.

"Even the people that do have big patios if they are at half capacity... it's not going to pay the bills," she said. "None of us can afford to open at half capacity when we are doing good with take-out."

Lacroix said she doesn't plan to reopen under the new rules - which would only allow her three or four tables inside her small restaurant and one outside - and will just continue doing takeout.

Several blocks south the Fig Bistro owner David Scarlatescu welcomed the idea of patios and said they were a "wonderful idea."

However, Scarlatescu said they won't change much for most restaurateurs.

"I would guess... that 90 to 95 per cent will decide that they are not going to open their dining areas with these restrictions," Scarlatescu told iNFOnews.ca. "It's very unrealistic to expect restaurants that are already running on really thin margins to be opening the inside of their restaurants to these... ridiculous restrictions that they are going to be putting forward to allow us to even have dining tables in our restaurant."

While the owner of Vernon's Fig Bistro said he is keen to have more tables and chairs outside of his downtown cafe, Scarlatescu said his position is a little different.

With only counter service Scarlatescu said he will continue just doing take out, but having somewhere for his customers to sit outside would be great.

For restaurants and bars that are going to take the plunge, the first step is for provincial and local governments to cut down on the red tape and do it quickly, said B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association president Ian Tostenson.

Tostenson said governments need to "approve it now and do the paperwork later" as each day lost to bureaucracy was a day that might mean a restaurant would not reopen.

He said he felt the provincial government was open to fast-tracking red tape and cities and municipalities around the province also seemed on board to push for more patios.

How this will look will change from city to city and Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming wouldn't comment on what changes would be presented in the staff report.

"There's so many pieces to this," was his only comment.

Whether the economics or the red tape will stop towns like Vernon from embracing al fresco culture is difficult to say, and some business owners don't seem to think the idea is worth entertaining.

Los Huesos restaurant owner Luis Garcia said he tried it years ago, it was very tough, and he wasn't willing to do it again.

And while businesses are talking to the city, they are certainly not rushing out to apply for a permit. The City of Vernon confirmed it's received one request for an outdoor patio since the COVID-19 and two requests were submitted prior to the pandemic.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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