Following Wednesday’s lunch rush, tables were empty at The Lancaster Taphouse in downtown Regina.
It’s a quiet many restaurant staff across the city will have to get used to.
“It is definitely a big hit and it is just a matter of pushing through it again,” said Tracy Lee Herauf, The Lancaster general manager.
Under a regional public health order, restaurants and bars in Regina and surrounding area must close dine-in services starting Sunday and lasting until at least April 5. Takeout, delivery and curbside pick-up are still allowed.
“We’re going to do our best to promote our takeout side of the business and basically try to keep our heads above water,” Herauf said, adding the restaurant will not be laying off any of its staff at this time.
Herauf expects sales to drop by 50 per cent, if not more, adding the restaurant was not built to be a takeout service. She says this will only increase the financial hit brought on by the pandemic.
“We will have massive debt coming out of this that will take years to crawl out of,” Herauf said.
While sales began to bounce back this past month, Herauf says the downtown location has been struggling more than the restaurant’s south location during the pandemic.
“Some days it feels like downtown is a bit of a ghost town,” she said.
According to Judith Veresuk, executive director of Regina Downtown Business Improvement District, foot traffic is down significantly in the downtown area.
From conversations with businesses, Veresuk says downtown office buildings are at 20-per cent occupancy. Those are troubling numbers when the majority of customers are downtown employees rather than residents, she said.
“When that population is not here anymore the retailers, the coffee shops and the restaurants really suffer because people just aren’t driving from their homes to downtown to pick up that cup of coffee,” Veresuk said.
Numbers from Statistics Canada show roughly 1,000 people live in downtown Regina, while close to 35,000 people are employed in the area.
Restrictions reach beyond Regina
The public health order extends beyond Regina into surrounding communities including Belle Plaine, Balgonie, Lumsden, Regina Beach and Riceton.
At Lumsden Valley Restaurant, manager Anne Marie Melnyk says she doesn’t know how the restrictions will impact business, yet. The restaurant was not open last spring when Saskatchewan first went into lockdown.
“We can probably stay afloat with takeout alone, but a lot of people like to dine in,” Melnyk said.
However, takeout comes with added costs.
Melnyk says the restaurant will need to stock up on to-go boxes if it plans to increase takeout, which will be an increased expense.
One of the biggest hits to the business, according to Melnyk, will be the loss of the breakfast crowd.
“We’re usually very busy (in the morning) but most people don’t (order) breakfast as takeout,” she said.
Melnyk says she will have to lay off some of her staff as a result of the restrictions and restaurant hours will likely be altered.
She also expects a drop in customers, considering a good portion come from out of town.
“Everyone comes for our pizza,” Melnyk said.
“We get people from Regina or people who just want to go for a drive or people who have cottages stop in here.”
While she hopes the restrictions are “short-lived,” Melnyk is looking into delivery options as the restaurant waits out the pandemic storm.
Entertainment venues prepare for financial hit
Restaurants and bars are not the only businesses preparing to close their doors under the public health order.
Event and entertainment venues like bowling alleys, museums, theatres and libraries must also close Sunday.
Kevin Clark, operations manager at Golden Mile Bowling, says the announcement “was not unexpected,” but that does not help with the financial hit.
“It all depends on how long it lasts. We have already had a tough time trying to maintain what we have,” said Clark, who has to lay off 12 staff due to the looming closure.
The bowling alley’s revenue is down 85 per cent compared to previous years, according to Clark.
Due to previous public health measures that limit capacity, the bowling alley could only operate with 32 bowlers at one time, which is well below its usual 150-person capacity.
The provincial government is extending the Saskatchewan Small Business Emergency Payment Program to all businesses impacted by the regional restrictions. However, even with the federal wage and rent subsidies, Clark says it is not enough.
“At this point in time, nothing is going to be enough to get us back to where we have to be,” Clark said.
“We’re going to be digging out of this for years to come.”
Unlike restaurants and bars, Clark says it doesn’t make sense for Golden Mile Bowling to turn to takeout for its food services.
A full closure means the bowling alley could miss out on one of its busiest months of the year.
“We’re a winter sport,” Clark said.
“Our busy months, November through April, get us through the summer months.”
While it is “nerve racking,” Clark is hopeful the bowling alley will continue to make ends meet, and he is encouraging others to support the restaurant industry right now.
“To all the small businesses out there just stay strong. We’ll get through it one way or another,” he said.