As of midnight Sunday, all outdoor patios will be closed to diners, as the government tries to bring down rising COVID-19 case numbers.
Photo by Paul Cowley/Advocate staff

Restaurant owners frustrated by patio shutdowns

Outdoor patios must stop serving by midnight Sunday to stem rising COVID infections

Just days from turning away diners yet again, Tribe owner Paul Harris pins much of the blame on those who are ignoring health restrictions and a government that has failed to enforce them.

“One of the things we’re seeing in Alberta is a lot of people aren’t following the health rules and they’re the ones causing the problems,” he said on Wednesday. “It makes us crazy.”

He points to the recent anti-lockdown rodeo in Bowden as an example of the kind of behaviour that is causing infection numbers to rise leading to another round of business shutdowns. As of midnight Sunday all outdoor patios in Alberta are being closed to diners because of soaring infection rates.

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“(Protesters) think it’s the government that’s costing us business when it’s them who are costing us business. If they would just get it together, like a community does, follow the rules for a few months we’d be done, we’d be through this.”

Some of the blame should also go to the government for not enforcing its own regulations, he said.

“Enforcement is pathetic. Enforce the rules. Fine these people.”

Harris said the government’s financial support does not work for many small businesses because it is built on an assumption that year-over-year revenues stay the same.

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Businesses would be much better served by financial help that reflects the overhead costs businesses routinely face such as rent, mortgage payment, insurance, utility bills and payroll costs.

“What (businesses) would really like is a grant that allows us to keep our staff employed through all of this. We can find things for them to do if we had the money to support them.”

If there is a benefit to the multiple shutdowns and other health restrictions it is the opportunities provided for business owners to make changes that will continue to pay off when normalcy returns.

“As business owners we always take these things as opportunities to do things,” he said. During the first shutdown, he did facade work and during the second built a new bar.

This time, he is making other improvements including extending the kitchen hours to better serve takeout and pick-up business.

“The restaurant is going to go into the fall in a much better place because we’ve been able to focus on just one aspect of (the business).

“We used our time wisely. We haven’t just been sitting on our thumbs.”

Bo’s Bar and Stage owner Brennen Wowk is not happy with how the government has been handling the pandemic and how little consultation there has been with businesses affected by repeated full and partial closures.

“I’m extremely disappointed and frustrated with the restrictions that were announced yesterday,” said Wowk.

When the government ordered restaurants to stop serving customers indoors many businesses responded by spending money building or expanding outdoor patio spaces.

There was a lack of communication about whether restaurants could count on those being available. That is a result of a larger failure by the province to provide a clear plan on the path forward and how the hard-hit hospitality industry fits into that plan.

“I think this government has absolutely failed in laying out a detailed path recovery,” said Wowk. “Government needs to be working with industry to build proper plans and discuss all the variables that may be at play so businesses can forecast on what potentially might be coming down the pipeline.”

Wowk said he spent well over $10,000 expanding the outdoor patio at Bo’s and others have also faced big expenses, not helped by lumber prices being at record highs.

As a member of the Alberta Hospitality Association, Wowk will be meeting with officials from the province’s jobs, economy and innovation ministry to press for more help and better communication.

The association wants Alberta to follow Ontario’s lead and provide full recovery of retroactive energy and utility costs during closures, and top up staff wages to save jobs — a step taken in Quebec. A full rebate for the cost of new or renovated patios and grants to cover past provincial and city property taxes will also be requested along with other financial support during government-mandated closures.



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