Manitoba patio-goers, restaurants to get a taste of looser restrictions starting Saturday
People say they're eager, uncertain about increased capacity rules
A minute after midnight Saturday marks a special moment for Manitoba restaurateurs — and a group of them in downtown Winnipeg are toasting the occasion by taking part in a special weekend event.
Due to loosening of public health restrictions that take place at 12:01 a.m., provincial restaurants, food courts and licensed premises can stay open until midnight instead of 10 p.m., capacity sizes move up to 50 per cent, though outdoor patio seating remains at eight people per table.
But the cap on outdoor seats isn't stopping downtown restaurants from taking part in Winnipeg's first-ever Patiofest.
The festival, a creation of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, will see 20 area establishments toast the loosening of restrictions outdoors with live performances and other enticements for patrons to come hang out downtown over the weekend.
But for some patrons, the real pull is just the prospect of being able to be outside.
"I'm so happy, especially me, because I've been looking to go out since last year," Gloria Izevvokun beamed, while standing near an outdoor dining area at downtown's True North Square on Friday.
"It's the fresh air for me, it just feels like we've been in a building for too long," she said.
Her friend, Lydia Henshaw, said she's also grateful to be able to be outside. "It feels like I've been indoors for like forever. And it just makes me feel like I'm trapped in a box."
Staffing issues persist
Sachit Mehra, owner of the East India Company restaurant, said the loosening restrictions on his business are "pretty exciting."
"We're starting to see people kind of come out of their houses now, come out to these restaurants, these patios and do the things they traditionally did."
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He said while hard to predict, he's anticipating a busy weekend for the York Avenue eatery.
Challenges have included dealing with staffing issues, he said, and the restaurant has been running ads hoping to hire for various positions.
Because of remaining pandemic uncertainties looming — which can translate into scheduling issues as businesses try to restart — it's been hard to attract and retain staff in the hospitality, events and small retail industries, he said.
"It's a little bit like having a V8 engine," said Mehra. "If you press on the gas and there's no gas in the tank you're going to have that engine really choke out," he said.
Some remain guarded over loosening restrictions
For Heather Thorleifson, the loosened restrictions are exciting and a bit nerve-racking.
"When I think about going to a patio I get really conflicting emotions because I would love to go out for drinks with my friends but I've also seen just a lot of really irresponsible behaviour," she said.
Living just off of Corydon Avenue she says she's seen a fair amount of "scary behaviour" since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
"So it worries me because I know that not everyone has the common sense you would hope that they would have. I'm hoping everything goes really well, the numbers have been amazing lately, the vaccination numbers are amazing.
"So I'm trying to remain hopeful," Thorleifson said, adding she appreciates the government taking a cautious approach to reopening.
The province reported reported 39 new COVID-19 cases and no deaths linked to the illness on Friday, a day which also marked the first time the test-positivity rate had sunk below three percent since early last October.