Restaurants from small independent groups to local chains are expecting to be hit hard by the three week “circuit breaker” lockdown imposed as the B.C. government tries to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The “circuit breaker” was announced March 29 by Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix in response to steeply rising infection rates.
It went into effect that midnight and will last until April 19 – curbing indoor dining, but allowing patios to remain open for the time being.
Debbie Paul, owner of Fox and Hounds Pub and Restaurant, called the restrictions devastating.
“Weather permitting, we can fit 30 people on the patio – and that’s the biggest there is in town,” she said.
Paul and her husband Jeff have owned and operated the British-style pub for 27 years and said COVID-19 has been the first time they had to lay staff off.
“It’s a family. But we just had to lay five staff members off. Right now, were at 25 per cent capacity and that doesn’t pay the bills,” Paul said.
The pub is offering delivery noon to 8 p.m. on Thursday to Saturday, as well as takeout, which people can order by visiting www.foxandhounds.ca.
She thanked the Aldergrove community for their ongoing support, but repeatedly praised her staff for their dedication, particularly for their above and beyond cleaning practises.
“Our staff is phenomenal at keeping the place clean,” Paul said. “They have sprayed and wiped the tables and chairs down so many times, the paint is coming off.”
In addition to regulations on restaurants, group fitness classes are cancelled, students down to Grade 4 are to wear masks in class, Whistler Blackcomb ski resort was shuttered, and expected small church services for Easter will now have to be outdoors or virtual.
Joseph Richard Group CEO Ryan Moreno had been planning for a big announcement, but not the one from the government.
The head of the restaurant group, which has more than 20 locations under a variety of brands around Langley and its neighbours, had been ready to launch a “virtual food court” dubbed Canteen.
A delivery and takeout service from the many “ghost kitchens” operated by JRG, it turned out to be well timed, given the shut down of indoor dining.
“Seeing the rise in the [COVID] numbers… you’ve got to be living under a rock to think there wouldn’t be discussions about that,” Moreno said of the shutdown.
He doesn’t think restaurants were the main culprit in the ongoing spread of COVID-19.
“You can count on one hand the number of exposures we’ve had,” he said.
Protocols around health and safety have become second nature for staff, he said.
Now, just as spring has arrived and dining out traditionally picks up after the slow months of January and February, restrictions will cut into revenues.
“It’ll be a massive hit to the industry for sure,” Moreno said. Locations without patios will be hit the hardest, he noted.
There will also be fewer hours for some workers, although Moreno said they’re trying to not to lay anyone off completely, and are trying to balance the financial impact of the indoor dining closures against their staff’s livelihoods.
“We’ve been exploring doing some delivery ourselves,” he said, noting that could allow more people to keep working.
Last year, JRG did some innovative partnerships to bring in customers safely, including pop-up flower stalls and working with the Krause Berry Farm.
Now it’s a question of how long the new restrictions last, Moreno said.
Premier John Horgan said last month that case counts have been “unacceptably high” in the past 10 days, and it is particularly people aged 20 to 39 who are spreading the coronavirus.
“We’ve come a great distance but we cannot blow it now,” Horgan said. “We need to focus on individual responsibility for the greater good.”
Horgan said the B.C. government is working on ways to provide further relief for restaurant, pub and other hospitality employees who will be pushed out of work for the three-week period. Existing programs may be extended if necessary, he said.
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