British Columbia

Food offerings keep nightclubs open amid confusion over provincial rules

Industry leaders say businesses could have been open on New Year's Eve but were in the dark about their options, including serving food from nearby restaurants.

Bars, nightclubs can stay open as long as they serve food, the province has clarified

Dave Kershaw, owner of the Cabana Lounge in Vancouver, has reopened the nightclub with food offerings. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Domino's Pizza might not be considered tropical food, but it's become a hot menu item in Vancouver's Cabana Lounge nightclub.

Owner Dave Kershaw has set up a makeshift menu at his Granville street club, which also includes tacos from The Pawn Shop restaurant a few doors down.

"Last weekend we sold over 30 pizzas, and some tacos," said Kershaw.

Kershaw is taking advantage of other kitchens following a clarification from the province that allows bars and nightclubs to stay open as long as they offer full meal service — which can include catering from other restaurants, or even food trucks.

He just wishes he had known sooner.

"If we were given the knowledge that we could have stayed open, I certainly would have," he said.

Kershaw has put together a menu that includes Domino's Pizza items, as well as tacos from The Pawn Shop. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Lack of clarity

On Dec. 22, the province shut down bars and nightclubs to curb surging COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant.

The order meant widespread cancellations of New Year events and bookings, ultimately costing the industry millions of dollars, according B.C.'s Alliance of Beverage Licensees (ABLE).

It wasn't until January, however, that ABLE said it received clarification that nightclubs and bars could operate with full meal service, even if the food wasn't coming from their own kitchen.

"There's frustration among folks in the nightclub, as well as curling clubs and legions and other places, that have had to close for the past few weeks when they didn't really need to," said ABLE executive director Jeff Guignard.

Venue Nightclub on Granville Street in Vancouver, B.C., pictured with its windows boarded up in April 2020. Jeff Guignard, executive director of B.C.'s Alliance of Beverage Licensees, says many in the nightclub industry are frustrated to learn they could've remained open by serving food items, even if the food is sourced from other restaurants. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The exceptions allowing nightclubs and bars to remain open are outlined in B.C.'s latest health order dated Jan. 17.

However, Kershaw says the original announcement from health officials on Dec. 21, which didn't mention that clubs could remain open with catering or food trucks, was misleading.

"They didn't reach out to us," said Kershaw. "It was up to us to read the tea leaves, figure it out on our own, and then decide what to do about it, which is not the way it should have gone down."

Others follow suit

With the Cabana Lounge opening its doors, Guignard says other liquor-primary establishments are following suit. However, there are many more that don't have the capacity to do so.

"We're feeling that at least some people can get back to work, but it's not going to work for everybody," he said. "It's a challenging environment, but at least there's a path forward for some in the industry."

Health restrictions on bars and nightclubs were recently extended until at least Feb. 16, when the province will review measures aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19. 

The Roxy nightclub is pictured in Vancouver in June 2021. Health restrictions on bars and nightclubs were recently extended until at least Feb. 16. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

In the meantime, the province has announced it is doubling relief funding for eligible businesses still closed because of the coronavirus.

Businesses such as bars, nightclubs and event venues where full meals are not served can receive up to $20,000.

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