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Winnipeg nightclub, bar owners frustrated with province’s Phase 3 draft plan

A bartender pours a drink at the Palomino Club during a recent New Year's celebration. The province won't allow patrons to dance or grab a drink up at the bar in the province's third phase of reopening.
A bartender pours a drink at the Palomino Club during a recent New Year's celebration. The province won't allow patrons to dance or grab a drink up at the bar in the province's third phase of reopening. The Palomino Club

Manitoba is just days away from more restrictions being lifted during Phase 3 of the province’s reopening plan resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, but not everyone is excited.

Owners of Winnipeg nightclubs and bars say they’re growing increasingly frustrated with the province’s handling of phases two and three — with some saying the fate of their business lies in those plans.

The province released its draft plan for the third phase of the Restoring Safe Services plan on Thursday, with the tentative date of implementation set for June 21.

It includes some changes for restaurants and bars — particularly, a bump in the maximum capacity allowance from 50 per cent to 75 per cent.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Draft Manitoba Phase 3 reopening plan ends need to isolate after travel in Western Canada

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For most in the hospitality industry, that doesn’t do much, as social distancing still needs to be maintained — and restaurants will have a hard time adding more seats while adhering to that rule.

“[The provincial government] basically said, ‘OK, here’s your olive branch — you can be open to 75 per cent capacity, but you still need to have your tables six feet apart from each other,'” says Kings Head Pub owner Chris Graves.

“Anyone who knows a little bit of math can understand that is still 50 per cent capacity.”

READ MORE: ‘We’re bleeding’: Manitoba restaurant, bar owners say Phase 3 doesn’t go far enough

Phase 3 was also shaping up to be a big moment for Manitoba’s nightclub industry, as the original plan released at the start of the Restoring Safe Services plan called for dance floors and walk-up bar service to be included.

Click to play video 'Manitoba unveils phase three reopening draft plan' Manitoba unveils phase three reopening draft plan
Manitoba unveils phase three reopening draft plan – Jun 11, 2020

When the draft plan was released last week, it specifically excluded those two key areas of the nightclub experience.

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From the Phase Three draft plan:

Businesses must continue to implement measures to ensure that members of the public are seated at a table, and are reasonably able to maintain a separation of at least two metres from others, except for brief exchanges. Standing service is not allowed. Dance floors are to remain closed.

That move has angered Scott Townsend, assistant manager at the Palomino Club.

“We did the responsible thing [and] stayed closed for an extra four weeks, waiting for this so we could offer the full Palomino experience and be responsible.”

“They went and pulled that section out of Phase 3.”

READ MORE: Manitoba’s Phase 2 reopening amid COVID-19 will start June 1

Townsend says about 85 per cent of the “Pal’s” sales come from walking up to the bar and the move has forced management to make some big changes on-the-fly.

“We have to bring in waitresses and train them, because we don’t carry that many waitresses normally,” he explains. “On top of that, we still have to bring in more tables — buy, rent, whatever the case may be.”

Townsend acknowledges the initial projection was subject to change based on how the province was handling the pandemic, but given Manitoba having just seven active cases of COVID-19 as of Saturday, he says it can’t get much better.

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“I don’t know what else they expected.”

The province’s handling of reopening also has Townsend looking to the future — one that he says could crush the industry if there’s a second wave of the virus.

“There’s nothing there. There’s no gas to keep these places afloat for a second wave. If the government would have stuck to their plan, then at least these places could plan to do something to protect themselves down the road.”

Global News has reached out to the province of Manitoba for comment but has not yet received a response.

–With files from Sam Thompson