What to expect when restaurants, stores and hair salons reopen

The Alberta government's plan to take the first major step in relaunching the economy — as early as Thursday — has many people wondering exactly what's in store as restaurants, hair salons and retail shops cautiously open their doors after being shut for almost two months to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Here are the details of the Alberta government's guidelines to protect employees and customers

Retail businesses, including those in Market Mall in northwest Calgary, will be allowed to reopen as early as May 14 under the province's economic relaunch plan. (Mike Symington/CBC)

The Alberta government's plan to take the first major step in relaunching the economy — as early as Thursday — has many people wondering exactly what's in store as restaurants, hair salons and retail shops cautiously open their doors after being shut for almost two months to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The province released a new online tool Monday to help businesses prepare for the reopening. Premier Jason Kenney is expected to release details of the plan on Wednesday.

    Here's a closer look at the guidelines laid out by the province for three of the categories that many Albertans are most eager to see reopen — restaurants, retail stores and hair services — to give you a sense of what to expect.

    Restaurants, cafes, bars and pubs:

    Eating out won't be like it was before COVID-19.

    The province lays out several guidelines that cafes, restaurants, pubs and bars have to follow and, besides a renewed vigilance around hygiene and cleanliness, the most noticeable effect might be some extra personal space.

    Under the new pandemic health regulations, owners must:

    • Operate at no more than 50 per cent seating capacity, including on patios.
    • Seat a maximum of six patrons together at larger tables. 
    • Arrange tables and chairs so that there's a two-metre buffer between parties.
    • Install barriers where tables cannot be adequately separated.
    • Ask guests to wait outside until their table is ready, if that's feasible.
    • Have wait staff and servers wear a cloth or surgical mask if they cannot be protected by two metres of distance or a physical barrier. 
    • Provide table service only. No buffet or self-service will be permitted. 
    • Provide extra distancing In washrooms, such as closing alternate urinals.
    • Not allow recreational activities, such as karaoke or billiards, within bars and pubs. 

    Ernie Tsu, who owns Trolly 5 on 17th Avenue S.W. in Calgary and also sits on the board of the Alberta Hospitality Association, says he's impressed with how the province has handled its planned relaunch.

    "I thought the Alberta government did a good job," he said. 

    Trolley 5 brew pub on 17th Avenue S.W. is getting ready for a May 21 reopening. (Trolley 5)

    Tsu says he's holding off on reopening until May 21 to make sure his team is fully prepared to operate properly under the new requirements.

    To make sure of that, he and his staff will be doing dress rehearsals ahead of opening day.

    "We're going to rehearse it right from guest arriving to billing. We'll go through a full dry-run rehearsal," he said.

    "I would expect almost every restaurant and pub to be going over and above the guidelines."

    Tsu said the biggest challenge for a lot of places will be ensuring guests remember to maintain the two-metre buffer.

    Others in the food-serving business aren't ready yet.

    Beverly Wojak, one of the owner's of Mom's Place Family Restaurant in Forest Lawn, says she won't open her doors to sit-down customers even if the province says she can this week.

    "We're just uncomfortable with it right now," she said.

    She wants to wait until at least the end of May to see if the relaunch leads to a spike in COVID-19 cases.


    Albertans will also notice big changes when they can get out shopping again.

    The guidelines for retail outlets include enhanced cleaning protocols and reminders that staff must practise proper hand hygiene and coughing and sneezing etiquette.

    Other guidelines include to:

    • Ensure workers always have access to appropriate protective equipment if required.
    • Stagger staff arrival and departure times, as well as lunch times, breaks and meetings, to reduce the number of workers in one place at a given time.
    • Consider restricting and directing customers as they enter and move around in the business (for example, by having one point of entry and one of exit and using signs to direct how customers move through the store).
    • Consider limiting the number of patrons allowed in at any given time. 
    • Use markers to indicate where shoppers should stand while waiting in line to maintain physical distance.
    • Clean and disinfect surfaces in change rooms after each use and encourage customers to sanitize hands before trying on clothes.

    Darren Milne, general manager at Market Mall, says shoppers will certainly notice it's not quite business as usual when the mall reopens in northwest Calgary.

    "Really, from the moment you arrive, things will look different. The mall entrances will all be marked as 'entrance' or 'exit' only. So there won't be two-way traffic between the doors," he said.

    "We are coordinating with many of our tenants to install decals that will say 'stand here,' in order to try to create physical distancing as people will have to wait to get into certain stores."

    "We, too, want them to create a safe environment not only for our shoppers but for their own employees," he added.

    Milne also strongly recommends shoppers wear masks while they are at the mall.

    A lone person rides an escalator past a shut cafe in downtown Calgary amid the COVID-19 pandemic closures. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

    Hair salons and barber shops:

    Trips to the hairdresser or barber shop are going to be very different for a while, too, under the new COVID-19 health regulations.

    Owners of hair cutting and styling businesses are being told they must take lots of extra precautions, including:

    • Arrange workstations to maintain a two-metre distance between clients.
    • Have hair cutters and technicians wear procedural/surgical masks while working directly with clients, and consider wearing eye protection and aprons. 
    • Encourage clients to wear masks.
    • Skip blow drying unless both the stylist and client wear masks. 
    • Stagger appointment times to maximize distancing in high-traffic areas such as waiting areas and wash stations and so that workstations can be cleaned and disinfected between appointments.
    • Use only equipment that can be cleaned and disinfected, or thrown out, between clients. 
    • Avoid sharing products or tools between workstations. If sharing is required, clean and disinfect products and tools between users.
    • Use a clean towel instead of a neck brush to remove hair.
    • Remove non-essential high-touch items like magazines and toys.

    At MVP Modern Barbers in Bridgeland, owner Lindsay Stowe says she's spent a lot of time and money to make sure she's ready to operate under the new rules. 

    "I am very confident that we have this under control and with everybody's safety in mind," she said.

    "All of my staff is gung-ho and wants to get back to work."

    Stowe said she's entirely removed her waiting area and outfitted her cutters with top-grade face shields and other gear. But the hardest part might be rejigging her booking system so that her clients don't overlap at all.

    "It's going to be kind of tricky," she said.

    Other businesses included in Stage 1

    The list of businesses allowed to reopen in Stage 1 also includes daycares, art galleries, museums, summer camps, bookstores, furniture shops and farmers markets.

    The city and the province have set up a joint business inspection task force to ensure the public health rules are followed.

    Calgary police, city business license inspectors, AHS and Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC) are working together.

    The head of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency, Tom Sampson, is asking business owners to familiarize themselves with the rules for their type of operation.

    "The control is in your hands," he said.

    "How we respond will dictate how it all goes and how well it unfolds. So the business task force will be out there. They'll be conducting weekly inspections for the foreseeable future."

    Businesses found to be contravening the Public Health Act can face fines and the suspension or revoking of their business license.

    Alberta's first steps toward reopening began on May 1 with resumed access to provincial parks and boat launches, although services such as washrooms may take longer to be ready.

    On May 4, non-emergency medical services, such as elective surgeries, dental hygiene and physiotherapy, were allowed to reopen their offices.


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