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‘Full capacity’ at Manitoba restaurants not much help under social distancing rules: owners

COVID-19: Manitoba businesses prepare to navigate health guidelines in order to survive
Eager to reopen doors and welcome back customers, Manitoba businesses in the customer service sector say abiding public health orders is going to be difficult and costly, but ultimately necessary, in order to survive the economic blow from COVID-19. Global's Brittany Greenslade has the story.

Manitoba restaurants will be allowed to increase their capacity on Sunday with the launch of the province’s Phase 3 of reopening — but many of them won’t be able to.

Doug Stephen, president of WOW Hospitality, which owns several Winnipeg restaurants, told 680 CJOB that while his first priority is the safety of both customers and employees amid the coronavirus pandemic. But he’d like to see physical distancing measures reduced even further.

With the launch of Phase 3 on Sunday, bars and restaurants can open to full capacity, a change from the draft plan, which previously said they could open to 75 per cent capacity.

Although occupancy limits will be removed, there are still social distancing requirements.

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

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Some potential solutions include the installation of physical barriers between tables, but Stephen said he’s not entirely sold on making those renovations without knowing when — or if — the situation is going to change.

“It’s not a cheap undertaking, so if it’s going to go on for a bit, we absolutely would… but we don’t know how it’s going to go,” he said.

“So what we’re going to do is try to maximize the capacity as best we can.”
Stephen said the two-metre distancing rule between tables means that for many smaller restaurants in the city, an increase in the capacity is essentially meaningless.

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“Unfortunately with the fixed costs and the variables that we have, at 50 per cent capacity, people aren’t making a whole bunch of money, if at all,” he said.
“If we’re keeping socially distancing in place — we’re not going to be able to increase our capacity that much from what we currently are doing.
“I think you’re going to see people come up with inventive ideas to try and increase their capacity a bit.”
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Shaun Jeffrey, executive director of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association, called the current situation ‘two steps forward, one step back’.

Jeffrey said Wednesday that some restaurants that are able to implement barriers might see some increase in their ability to serve patrons, but most are working at their maximum capacity — with social distancing — which is more like 50 per cent than 100.

Shaun Jeffrey of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association on 680 CJOB.
Shaun Jeffrey of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association on 680 CJOB. Sam Thompson / Global News
The reality, he said, is based on the schematics of each individual restaurant, and how many tables or booths they can safely fill while maintaining social distance.
Jeffrey said while he understands the medical need for distancing, he would rather see the distances themselves reduced — maybe to one metre apart instead of two — as the cost of building physical barriers is prohibitive for a lot of restaurateurs at this point in time.
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“I spoke with two operators today, and they’ve been getting quotes to try to deal with this, and they were $32,000 and $44,000 to implement these barriers in their restaurant,” he said.

“That’s a significant amount of money for restaurants that have been running at 50 per cent or less of their revenue for a significant amount of time here.”

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