British Columbia

B.C. restaurants aim to resume dine-in service from June 1

The B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association is guiding the plan for province's 13,000 restaurants to resume dine-in service, but it won't be the same experience as before the pandemic.

Reduced capacity, physical barriers will make for a different experience at first, association says

Craft Beer Market in Vancouver can normally seat up to 500 people, but it's unclear whether it will have to adhere to a 50-person limit when dine-in service resumes. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Dine-in services at B.C. restaurants could resume at the start of next month as the province begins the next phase of its slow return to pre-pandemic normal.

Premier John Horgan said on Wednesday that the process — and how dining can be done safely to avoid spreading the virus — will be guided by the B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association, and will have to be approved by WorkSafeBC.

The association's CEO, Ian Tostenson, said the target is to reopen dining rooms to customers by June 1, with a slight possibility that patio service could start before then, depending on municipal input.

But the date on which restaurants resume serving seated patrons is up to the province's 13,000 establishments and how quickly they can make the required changes to comply with new guidelines, and get staff and supplies ready to go.

"It's going to take us a little bit to start up here," said Tostenson. "If we said June 1, we would be pushing it really hard."

Different dining experience

Tostenson said some things will feel quite different in the restart — there won't be lineups, physical distancing will mean reduced capacity in most cases, and some restaurants may install physical barriers like plexiglass to separate booths or other tables that are close.

"It's going to be a lot more orderly. It's still going to be fun, but it's going to be a little less, I guess the word might be 'spontaneous,' as we were in the past," he said.

"You might see some situations where staff are wearing masks and gloves," said Tostenson, adding that would likely be more common for staff doing cleaning.

He said staff will be divided into separate shifts to avoid broad infection of potential COVID-19 cases, and there will be daily staff temperature checks.

Tostensen said the association is also pushing municipalities to work with restaurants to expand patio spaces, even where they don't exist yet, to help thin out the number of indoor diners.

"Let's get creative here," he said Thursday on CBC's The Early Edition.

Capacity for larger restaurants unclear

For larger restaurants, like Craft Beer Market in Vancouver's Olympic Village, which can seat up to 500 people, it's unclear if capacity will be based on the official health guideline maximum of 50 people, or whether it will be based on the venue's ability to safely maintain physical distance between customers, as well as staff.

Craft president and founder P.J. L'Heureux is hoping for the latter, which could allow the Vancouver restaurant to serve as many as 200 guests at a time. 

"However, based on the situation and the environment, we want to be as safe as possible, both for our team and our guests," said L'Heureux. "So we would adhere to whatever the government would give us based on that."

Horgan said on Wednesday that the 50-person limit on gatherings would be in place for some time to come.

L'Heureux said in Craft's case, plexiglass likely wouldn't make much sense, as empty tables could easily separate parties. 

Since being limited to curbside and delivery, the restaurant is below five per cent of its normal revenue, he said, adding that he's eager to resume business as soon as possible but isn't rushing into it.

The Craft Beer Market patio. B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association CEO Ian Tostenson said there's a slight possibility patio service could start before June 1. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Craft is also planning to launch a system of ordering and payment on the customer's phone, similar to delivery, in order to reduce exposure with staff.

L'Heureux said a section of the restaurant would be set aside for those uninterested in or unable to access the system.

"I think everyone's got to really rethink everything. What was pre-COVID can't be post-COVID until things are back to normal," he said.

Survival rates

Tostensen said it's important for restaurant owners not to rush reopening and to take the time to ensure they are following all necessary guidelines provided by the province and the association.

"We have got one shot to do this right,'" he said. "We can't do it wrong and then close down and say 'oops.'"

He urged landlords to work with restaurant tenants who are struggling to pay rent, arguing there will not be a big clamour for commercial spaces after the pandemic and landlords are better off trying to keep existing tenants.

However, Tostensen estimates up to 30 per cent of B.C. restaurants may never open their doors again.


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About the Author

Rafferty Baker is a video journalist with CBC News, based in Vancouver. You can find his stories on CBC Radio, television, and online at cbc.ca/bc.

With files from The Early Edition

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