Restaurant owners are crossing their fingers for good weather so their patios can stay open while COVID-19 restrictions remain in place.
On Tuesday, Alberta reverted back to Step 1 of its reopening plan. Upgraded restrictions mean by noon on Friday, in-person dining at restaurants will only be permitted on patios. Take-out and delivery will still be available.
Rieley Kay, Cilantro and Chive owner, said capacity at his Red Deer restaurant will be reduced to eight per cent with just the patio, and 35 per cent at its Lacombe location.
“It’s going to be an incredible challenge from a staffing perspective with our patio as it is fully open to the elements and incredibly weather dependent. It will be a tricky course to navigate,” Kay said.
He said restaurants were caught off guard by Tuesday’s announcement.
“There are a lot of moving parts to our business. We have product in stock that we’ll need to push through in essentially 48 hours. It takes a lot to shift down, and a lot for us to shift back up.”
The Red Deer location opened on Jan. 15 when restaurants were still restricted to curbside pickup, and dining in started Feb. 9.
Patrick Malkin, The Granary Kitchen co-owner, said his patio will be reduced to 110 seats to about 50.
“Just in the last 24 hours, we’ve spent a sizable amount of money, in the thousands of dollars, for heaters outside. In Alberta, we don’t know if the good weather is going to show up tomorrow, or four months from tomorrow,” Malkin said.
“It’s frustrating. It’s uncertain ground is what it is.”
He said restrictions have always lasted longer than anticipated. It doesn’t get any easier, and it’s going to be even more difficult for restaurants without patios.
“It’s going to be a massive revenue drop. I have a lot of concern for the independents, us included. At what point do you throw in the towel?”
The impact will also trickle down to the producers of local vegetables and products that his restaurants supports, he said.
“We’re going to be buying less from other people. It’s a sad state of affairs.”
Malkin said Red Deer has been good to his restaurant and he will do everything he can to serve those looking forward to dining out.
“We’re just going to take it a day at a time.”
Brandon Bouchard, general manager at Tribe in downtown Red Deer, said the focus will be on staying positive and using the restrictions to their advantage.
“We’re going to use this as an opportunity to continue with some of the upgrades that we’ve been doing to our space so when we do reopen we’re bigger and better,” Bouchard said.
He said restaurateurs are not scientists and we’ll do what we have to do to keep everyone safe.
“Here’s hoping it doesn’t rain for the next six weeks,” joked Bouchard whose restaurant is near the Ross Street Patio.
Annie Dormuth, Alberta provincial affairs director with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said there has been little evidence that dining with family, or exercising is a real danger to public health.
“Once again there is a sense of frustration from small businesses that they’re almost being used to send a message to the public to take this seriously,” Dormuth said.
“We have yet to see data or evidence, provided by health officials or the government, that there is widespread transmission in these businesses.”
She said if there was widespread transmission, small businesses would be more than willing to work with Alberta Health to enhance health and safety protocols if it meant being able to keep their doors open.
In January, the association estimated 22 per cent of small businesses were at risk, or actively considering permanent closure. That number has likely increased, she said.
“The province is currently at risk of losing 34,000 small businesses. Small business owners are in a position where often times their businesses is their livelihood, their retirement plan, their life’s work and in some case the sole provider for their family.”
She said 70 per cent of businesses say accessing provincial and federal support is critical to their survival. With these new restrictions, the association is calling on the province to expand its new COVID-19 business benefit program so that more small businesses can access it, and provide additional payments to hospitality and arts and entertainment industries.