British Columbia

Banquet halls ask B.C. government to increase occupancy limit

B.C. banquet hall owners are calling on the province to allow gatherings larger than 50 people, arguing parties are happening outside of halls anyway — and that they'd be safer in a supervised setting. 

Operator says parties are still happening outside of halls, but that banquet halls could better ensure safety

The B.C. Banquet Hall Association says venues can't operate at less than 50 per cent capacity, and that they have the ability to ensure safety with a larger occupancy limit. (Submitted by Shawna Nelson)

B.C. banquet hall owners are calling on the province to allow gatherings larger than 50 people, arguing parties are happening outside of halls anyway — and that they'd be safer in a supervised setting. 

Sukh Mann, president of the B.C. Banquet Hall Association, says the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent public health orders evaporated bookings at venues up to 20,000 quare feet.

Currently, social gatherings larger than 50 people are not permitted in B.C.

But Mann says the threat of a $2,000 fine isn't stopping people from moving parties from the banquet hall to the backyard.

"What they're doing is they're setting up tents in their backyards or at farms and hosting parties with 50 to 100 people," Mann told CBC's On The Coast, adding he has heard of food being shared and a lack of physical distancing at such events.

"The fines are what, $2,000? To have a party at a banquet hall you're going to pay way more than that, so the $2,000 fine is no issue for some people, I think.

"Everybody's doing it, that's our concern."

Mann says banquet halls in B.C. are struggling, unable to pay staff, rent or property tax without filling their venues beyond 50 people. 

Some clients expect the halls to bend the rules when it comes to physical distancing and food and liquor service, and are forcing hall operators to play "the bad guy," Mann said.

Some wedding parties insist the rules don't apply to them because attendees are all in the same social bubble, he added. 

"In most cases, these families have been having private events leading up to a wedding for several days. When they come to our hall for a wedding reception, we are now asking them to sit separately and not go to the bar for a drink," he said. 

"They can't interact with anybody else. They can't dance, they can't walk to the bar and get a drink. What makes them want to have a party at my venue?"

Mann says the tensions have led to some clients refusing to pay. 

He says the province should consider allowing banquet halls to hold events with 50 per cent capacity, similar to how restaurants are allowed to function.

He says venues are capable of safely accommodating hundreds of people while enforcing physical distancing and collecting contact information for attendees.

He said his association has asked the province to come up with a plan specific to banquet halls.

'We are staying at 50,' Dr. Bonnie Henry says

On Monday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the province has had requests to reconsider the provincial health order surrounding the maximum number of people allowed to gather.

"Right now, for consistency across the board, we are staying at 50," Henry said, adding this number stands firm for any event in any space. 

"That is for a variety of reasons. It's one, to ensure that physical distancing measures can be put in place with that number and that we can follow up with people rapidly ... if there's a small number of people who are potentially exposed."

Henry said the chance of someone attending an event who may introduce the virus that causes COVID-19 goes up "dramatically" in groups larger than 50, such as during a recent religious event in Alberta

But Mann says without being able to operate at 50 per cent capacity, banquet halls will look toward government assistance to survive.

"If we want to operate and pay our bills and pay our people and move on in business, we need 50 per cent occupancy," he said.

"Without 50 per cent occupancy, we can't operate."

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