Laying off hundreds of serving staff before Christmas will be heartbreaking, say local restaurant owners who are switching to take-out only services as pandemic restrictions deepen in Alberta.
On Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney ordered a shut down of all in-person dining at restaurants and bars starting Sunday to try to flatten the rising curve of COVID-19 cases in the province.
This wasn’t an unforeseen move — but will still be difficult both financially and emotionally, considering all the workers who will be left unemployed over the holidays, said Patrick Malkin, co-owner of The Granery Kitchen of Red Deer.
“We are concerned about mental health… 39 of our staff will have to be laid off two weeks before Christmas. That’s not ever a good thing,” said Malkin.
“There are some single moms and single dads who count on their jobs to put food on the table.”
Like many restaurant owners, he plans to help laid-off staff connect with government supports.
Although Alberta’s government is expanding its relaunch grant to help small and medium-sized job creators impacted by new COVID-19 restrictions, there’s still some confusion over what are the right programs for employee support — whether unemployment insurance or some form of CERB.
“It’s a moving floor, with changing criteria,” said Malkin.
While the situation is “frustrating” because restaurants weren’t found to be a major cause of rising COVID-19 cases, Malkin said he and other restaurant owners want to get Alberta to a healthier place, so are gearing up for the switch-over, knowing it will result in sharp revenue declines.
“We don’t want to see any more people get sick.”
Dustin Snider, operating partner of Red Deer’s Earls Restaurant, had expected a shut-down order for dine-in services on Nov. 24 – when the last restrictions were announced. As a result, Earls had an effective head-start in gearing up to offer take-out services which were launched seven months ago during the first COVID-19 lock down.
“We’ve done this once before. We have more experience now, so we are in a better position,” said Snider. All the same, he knows “a lot of restaurants will struggle…
“We’ve worked hard for the last seven months and we are proud of the job we did in making it safe for our guests, but we understand (the situation) and are committed for the health of the whole community.”
Brennen Wowk, owner of Bo’s Bar and Stage, predicted these latest restrictions “will have a massive effect” on business, as well as the employees getting laid off.
“We’re trying to generate as much revenue as we can,” he said, to keep as many people as possible employed, through diversified take-out offerings — such as meals that can be purchased for the needy or for those isolating at home. He said cookies and other Christmas baking can also be ordered for take-out.
“The first closure was tough, but it enabled us to look for creative ways focus on growing our business,” added Wowk.
Local restaurants appreciated the take-out orders they received from Red Deerians during the first lock down, and hope this will continue over the holidays.
Malkin noted Red Deer’s restaurants are already plugged into the community through their support of sports teams and other local fundraisers “hopefully the community will now rally and give some of that support back to us.”