Restaurant owners weigh whether reopening at 25 per cent capacity is worth it

Many restaurant owners say they may make the difficult decision to stay closed when relaxed pandemic restrictions — which would allow them to reopen at a quarter of their normal capacity — come into effect on Friday.

Restaurant association head says half of businesses plan to stay closed

Garry Street Coffee is one of many businesses that might remain closed despite relaxed restrictions allowing restaurants to reopen at 25 per cent capacity, which come into effect Friday. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Many restaurant owners say they may make the difficult decision to stay closed when relaxed pandemic restrictions — which would allow them to reopen at a quarter of their normal capacity — come into effect on Friday.

"It's really getting down to the 25th hour, so we're really just trying to stay afloat and wait this thing out," said Tyler Rogers, co-owner and operator of Garry Street Coffee.

Normally, the small downtown coffee shop can fit between 20 and 25 people. On this day last year, Garry Street Coffee would have been packed, but the business has been closed for most of the pandemic.

COVID-19 restrictions put a stop to foot traffic downtown and there's no parking out front for curbside pickup, forcing the business to close its doors.

Rogers says there's been little help from the province. He wants to reopen, but 25 per cent capacity would make it difficult to cover the business's operating expenses, he said.

"Milk goes bad, and our location, with not having walk-up traffic or offices being back to full capacity, those are going to be some really big deciding factors," he said.

The owner of Promenade Cafe and Wine says he's sticking with takeout for now. 

"With our capacity, [we] would only be able to accommodate 18 people. So that really limits us when we have to bring in staff, about five staff members," said Shawn Brandson.

"At 50 per cent [capacity] we could make it happen, with almost 40 people, but at 25 per cent it doesn't make sense."

'Costs are insurmountable'

The head of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association says of the restaurants he'd heard from, half will likely remain closed for now

"It's a lot of requirements to open up a restaurant when it's been closed for two-and-a-half months. Those costs are insurmountable," he said.

"Restaurants have been financially deteriorated during this time and it's very hard to be able to do that, and we need to make sure if you're opening up, you're not opening up to lose more money."

Without any foot traffic downtown and nowhere for people to park for curbside pickup, Garry Street Coffee was forced to close its doors shortly before code red restrictions came into effect in November. (Submitted by Garry Street Coffee)

Instead of reopening, Rogers has partnered with a local artist to create a specially-designed T-shirt to sell as a fundraiser. So far, they have sold around 120 shirts, but even at $40 a piece, that doesn't cover much of the costs for his business.

"It's a hard thing, to ask people to donate or something, to help your fundraiser, when everybody's out of work and so many people are in tough positions, financially and mentally," said Rogers.

"So we are really grateful to everyone who has supported us so far."

In addition to the restriction on capacity, the province also requires restaurants to ensure only people from the same household sit together at a table, despite rules allowing people to have two designated people over to their house.

Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said that requirement is necessary to give public health officials confidence opening restaurants.

"There would be no way to be able to say the two people that were at a restaurant happen to be the two people that you normally have over at your house," he said.

"If we have groups of people with prolonged indoor contact at restaurants, we're going to see numbers rise. We're going to see cases linked to restaurants. And if we see that number climbing, we'll have to be back at further restrictions. So it's in everyone's best interest to ensure Manitobans are following these orders."

WATCH | Restaurants prepare to open after a long pandemic winter:

Restaurants prepare to open after long COVID winter

2 years ago
Duration 2:35
Manitoba is going ahead with plans to loosen pandemic rules on Friday. Restaurants will be able to open at 25 per cent capacity. But some owners fear reopening as much as staying closed.

With files from Alana Cole, Patrick Foucault and Cameron MacLean


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