British Columbia

Vancouver restaurants want more notice of health orders to avoid repeat of New Year's Eve 'chaos'

Many local restaurateurs say they are still smarting from the last-minute changes to COVID-19 restrictions for New Year's Eve, and they don't want the same thing to happen for upcoming Valentine's Day and Mother's Day events.

On Dec. 30, B.C. ordered restaurants, bars, and stores to stop selling alcohol at 8 p.m. on New Year's Eve

Restaurateurs Meeru Dhalwala, right, and Vikram Vij are part of a group who penned an open letter to Dr. Bonnie Henry and the Health Ministry demanding better communication after last-minute changes on New Year's Eve. (John Sherlock)

Many local restaurateurs say they are still smarting from the last-minute changes to COVID-19 restrictions for New Year's Eve, and they don't want the same thing to happen for upcoming Valentine's Day and Mother's Day events.

On Dec. 30, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced that restaurants, bars, and stores would have to stop selling alcohol at 8 p.m. on New Year's Eve in a bid to prevent a spike in COVID-19 cases.

Meeru Dhalwala, co-owner of Vij's restaurant, was one of 13 restaurateurs who wrote an open letter to Henry and the Health Ministry stating that the last-minute changes were detrimental to their business. The group demanded an apology.

Dhalwala said the announcement caused "utter chaos," with staff scrambling to figure out how to salvage the holiday and what to do with inventory after many customers ended up cancelling their bookings. 

"In all of our years of running restaurants, this must have been, most likely, the worst evening of our professional lives. And we were caught off guard," Dhalwala said to host Gloria Macarenko on CBC's On The Coast. 

In their press conference Monday, both Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix addressed the situation. 

Henry said the Dec. 30 announcement was prompted by tips from municipal leaders and industry insiders that events were being planned on New Year's Eve that could have led to the spread of cases.

"That was done in short notice because of the issues that arose and I, we, had an imperative to take some action knowing what we knew," Henry said, adding she knew it had been a hard year for the restaurant industry.

Dix said the measures had remained largely consistent since November, but also acknowledged the concern around New Year's Eve, and that "many people in the industry felt badly."

"I think every decision [Dr. Henry and I] take, consultation is important, and also the consequences of that decision, intended and unintended are always considered."

Shoppers stand in line at a BC Liquor Store in downtown Vancouver on New Year's Eve. All liquor sales were stopped at 8 p.m. on Dec. 31. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Ian Tostenson, president of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association, said he didn't know where the information that prompted the New Year's Eve changes came from.

"I think certainly there was some rumours and discussions about people wanting to have parties but it did not come from us," Tostenson said. 

However, he said, the relationship between the industry and Henry is still strong despite the miscommunication that created the New Year's Eve situation. 

"When they make a decision about New Year's, they're making a decision about a public health issue, and they're not at all thinking about the operations in restaurants," he said. 

Tostenson said while January is typically one of the slowest months for the restaurant industry, major events like the Superbowl, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, and Mother's Day will require more coordination.

"We are going to plan this out differently in the future where we're going to look at three, four, five months out on different events that are going to occur," he said. 

For Dhalwala and other restaurateurs who are trying to break even if not drown in debt, they're hoping for more communication.

"What we are asking for is please give us timely notice so that we can do our jobs in an already stressful situation. We need to survive. We can't survive with last minute havoc and agitation."

With files from On The Coast, Rafferty Baker


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