British Columbia’s restaurateurs are bracing for more pain amid new COVID-19 public health orders limiting service.
“It’s gutting. It really is,” said Christina Cotell, who runs Gringo restaurant in Vancouver’s Gastown.
“We’re already hit because of tourism, we’re already hit because of capacity. This really does feel like being kicked when we’re down.”
On Tuesday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry unveiled a new order shutting down nightclubs and banning restaurant liquor sales after 10 p.m.
Restaurants must close by 11 p.m. if they aren’t offering full meal service.
The move came as the province announced 429 new COVID-19 cases over the Labour Day long weekend.
Cotell said the new order came just as her restaurant was looking to extend its hours to the full scope of its licence.
“We are a late-night place; we start to really pick up around 7:30, 8 p.m. I would say about 80 per cent of our business happens between 8 p.m. and midnight,” said Cotell.
Jeff Guignard with the Alliance of Beverage Licencees of B.C. said in an industry with margins as tight as hospitality, losing even an hour at the end of the night can push a business from the black into the red.
“It takes us until about 10 p.m. to pay our salaries and our insurance and rent and the tax man,” he said.
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“That last couple of hours of the night is the difference between profit and bankruptcy in a lot of cases.”
Cotell thinks the province should have started enforcement earlier, and cracked down on establishments breaking the rules rather than issuing a blanket order.
She said putting an early cap on liquor service will only push gatherings underground.
It’s a concern B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association CEO Ian Tostenson shares.
“Does that mean we’re going to get private parties and that sort of thing going on?” he asked. “I hope not.”
Tostenson said for the most part, restaurants will be able to adapt to the changes — as long as they’re temporary.
But he said if they drag on, they could be fatal to many independent businesses.
“If we were then to take away some of the federal support programs, for example the wage subsidy, and don’t improve the rent program we’re going to have a disaster on our hands,” he said.
“It’s got to be short term.”
For the time being, the province is standing firm on the new restrictions.
Henry said she understands businesses pain, but that the action is needed to curb peoples’ interactions in risky settings.
Cotell said she hopes the province willing to review its stance.
“We’re a loosely assembled non unionized industry, it’s really easy to just chuck us around once in a while,” she said.
“I would seriously hope that this can be reviewed, because I don’t think it’s going to flatten any curve.”