British Columbia

Restaurants left scrambling after B.C. orders early nightcap on New Year's Eve liquor sales

Some members of B.C.'s hospitality industry say stopping liquor sales after 8 p.m. on New Year's Eve is an unfair last-minute blow to bars and restaurants. 

'We're extremely frustrated that they're doing this at the last minute without giving anybody a heads-up'

The interior of Colony Bar on Granville Street in Vancouver is shown in late May. Some members of B.C.'s hospitality industry are speaking out against the province's last-minute decision to restrict alcohol sales on New Year's Eve. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Some members of B.C.'s hospitality industry say stopping liquor sales after 8 p.m. on New Year's Eve is an unfair last-minute blow to bars and restaurants. 

The new rule, announced during a surprise government media availability on Wednesday afternoon, is an attempt to prevent a spike in COVID-19 cases and is only in effect for New Year's Eve. Liquor stores must also stop sales at 8 p.m., but restaurants can continue meal service into the evening and alcohol sales can resume on Jan.1 at 9 a.m.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix said they're concerned about parties and how alcohol could fuel poor decision-making about following COVID-19 rules.

Jeff Guignard, executive director of B.C.'s Alliance of Beverage Licensees, said the industry was not consulted and called the move "staggeringly stupid."

"We have bought all the food for special menus, we've brought in extra alcohol, we've scheduled staff, we've booked reservations," Guignard said. 

"It's not like New Year's Eve hasn't been on the calendar for a while now. So we're extremely frustrated that they're doing this at the last minute without giving anybody a heads-up."

Guignard said the hospitality industry is committed to doing everything it can to stop the spread of COVID-19, but he feels that restaurants, bars and liquor stores are being singled out.

No consultation

The move caught restaurant and bar owners by surprise hours before one of the industry's biggest nights, dealing them another blow during a year in which they've had to pivot numerous times to abide by changing public health orders, Guignard said. 

Had the industry been consulted in advance, Guignard said he would have argued hours should be extended so people could celebrate in a safe, controlled environment with supervision.

Ending liquor sales early poses a huge problem for restaurants that are offering two sittings on New Year's Eve, the second of which frequently begins at 8 p.m., said Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the British Columbia Restaurant and Foodservices Association.

He said he knows of one restaurant that had 500 reservations for two sittings on New Year's Eve. Now, they're trying to contact all those patrons to bump reservations earlier so the second sitting can have liquor service.

"They think probably their second sitting is gone, that most people will not want to go out," Tostenson said.

He worries restaurants could lose up to 50 per cent of their business on New Year's Eve because of this.

"This didn't have to happen at 8 o'clock. it's very arbitrary and it was way too quick to announce and no time to adjust," Tostenson said.

Tostenson is urging British Columbians to support restaurants by ordering takeout tomorrow night.

"We've got a really tough three months ahead of us and this is not helping the situation at all," he said. 

'Support them in any way you can'

Liquor stores are also preparing for the change and are urging patrons to plan ahead.

Paul Richardson, B.C. wine buyer at Liberty Wine Merchants in Vancouver, said he understands the rule is in place for health and safety reasons, but acknowledges the impact it will have on businesses.

Liberty is increasing the number of people allowed in its store on New Years Eve to make up for having to close three hours early.

Still, he suggests people come early to avoid long lines.

"It's sort of the same thing as planting a tree. The best time to do it is 20 years ago. The next best time is now," he said. 

Richardson's store is able to adjust on the fly, but he sympathizes with others in the industry left in a tough place at the end of a tough year. 

"Consider ordering from a few places that do online sales," he said.

"I know a lot of restaurants are doing online sales of both liquor and food. Do that early in the day, support them in any way you can."

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