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Temperature check please: B.C. restaurants pitch plan to reopen amid COVID-19

B.C. restaurants cook up plans for safe reopening
WATCH: B.C. restaurants cook up plans for safe reopening

Temperature checks for guests and staff, masks and gloves for front-of-house workers and plexiglass between booths.

Those are a few of the proposals from industry that could see British Columbia restaurant dining look very different once strict COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease up.

Restaurants were closed to dine-in customers by public health order in March, and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has since asked industry to propose measures that would allow them to safely reopen when the first wave of COVID-19 passes.

READ MORE: B.C. restaurant owners plead for government help amid coronavirus crisis in new campaign

B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association president Ian Tostenson said his organization is now submitting a suite of such measures, developed in consultation with industry leaders, to government.

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Other ideas in the plan include slashing restaurant seating by 50 per cent and requiring guests to stay two metres apart, capping group sizes, adding hand sanitizing stations and putting up barriers between guests and bartenders.

Re-opening restaurants: balancing public safety with profitability
Re-opening restaurants: balancing public safety with profitability

Limiting guests to an hour in the restaurant and boosting outdoor patio capacity are also being floated.

READ MORE: Vancouver councillor submits patio options to help restaurants struggling under COVID-19

“All of those different things are going to be so necessary to have that public confidence,” Tostenson told Global News.

“That’s really what it’s about. People want to go out but they’re not going to go out if they think it’s not being done right.”

The new measures will likely be paired with reduced menus and higher prices.

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The pandemic has decimated B.C.’s restaurant and hospitality sector, which the industry estimates employs more than 120,000 people and generates more than $13 billion in economic activity.

READ MORE: 121K B.C. hospitality workers off the job, 28% of restaurants risk going under: survey

The challenge is particularly tough because restaurants already operate on a razor-thin margin.

“The average restaurant profit in Canada is four per cent,” said restaurant consultant Alex Fraser.

“Take a model that’s challenged to begin with, now add these kinds of challenges where restaurants are expected to modify their model, have reduced sales and expect to be successful — they’re not going to be.”

While many restaurants have pivoted to takeout, it hasn’t been enough to keep some afloat.

Restaurants Canada estimated earlier this month that one in 10 Canadian restaurants has already gone broke due to the pandemic, and that another 18 per cent could fail by the end of April.

Moises Toyber, owner of Las Tortas in Vancouver, said a partial opening might keep a small amount of cash coming in, but he doesn’t know if it will be enough.

Health officials considering allowing dining out in B.C., with restrictions
Health officials considering allowing dining out in B.C., with restrictions

“Maybe two tables, that’s going to be four people sitting,” he said.

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Toyber is hopeful the push to expand outdoor seating — perhaps even carving a portion of the city’s now under-used roads out for diners — could throw another lifeline.

“They were planning to do an outdoor seating area on the corner,” he said. “It may help, go ahead and do that as soon as possible.”

In the meantime, provincial health officials still need to review the industry’s recommendations before finalizing any guidelines that would allow businesses to reopen.

READ MORE: Coronavirus pandemic could see 15% of B.C. restaurants close for good, says industry

The province is expected to begin laying out some details of its plan to restart the economy — while protecting against COVID-19 — next week.

“The consuming public has to be comfortable and confident when they go into a restaurant that they are going to be safe,” said Premier John Horgan Wednesday.

“Similarly, workers in that sector need that confidence as well, and the only way we build that confidence is to have set of common protocols, common guidelines in place to protect workers, in place to protect consumers.”

— With files from Robin Gill and Grace Ke