Nfld. & Labrador

N.L.'s Alert Level 5 slams restaurants with another instant drop in business

Newfoundland and Labrador's swift move back into Alert Level 5 also meant a swift change of fortunes for restaurants and other eateries.

As another Level 5 lockdown hangs over the province, the restaurant industry remains one of hardest hit

Todd Perrin had to lay off staff at his restaurants Mallard Cottage and Water West Kitchen and Meats following last Friday's move to Alert Level 5. (Gary Locke/CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador's swift move back into Alert Level 5 also meant a swift change of fortunes for restaurants and other eateries.

Just ask Alex Lockyer, the owner of Harbour Grounds in Corner Brook.

"In terms of business volume, our sales last week I would say were on par year over year," he said. "And then on Saturday — if I had to give you a number, it would be a drop of 80 per cent."

The night before, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province's chief medical officer of health, announced that Newfoundland and Labrador was immediately moving back into a full lockdown, with public health measures that had not been seen since last spring.

For the already beleaguered restaurant industry, it's one more blow among many.

Lockdown came on Valentine's Day weekend, generally regarded as a shot in the arm for restaurants during the typically slow winter months.

Without it, and with growing uncertainty of how long the province will remain at Level 5, some restaurateurs feel the state of the industry is becoming increasingly precarious.

Like many other business owners across the province, Lockyer shut down as the pandemic hit last March, but was able to open up again in May, thanks to federal support and a new online ordering system.

Despite providing three separate ways to order food safely, Lockyer said, he feels people just aren't inclined to go out at the moment, given anxiety around the new B117 variant detected in the province last week.

The owner of Harbour Grounds in Corner Brook says the day after Alert Level 5 was reinstated, business dropped by about 80 per cent. (Harbour Grounds Cafe/Facebook)

Of the 10 employees at the Harbour Grounds, four to five would normally be working on any given day. Now, they're down to two.

Lockyer said he would like to see more information from public health, especially given a lack of confirmed cases in Corner Brook, to help owners determine what to do next.

"We really need more information on which to base our decisions, because if someone told me that this was going to continue for three or four weeks from this date I would be hesitant to even stay open," he said.

Winter already a difficult time

The move back into lockdown has drained the energy of many restaurant owners, who have had to reinvent their business models since last year.

"This lockdown coming along now at this time is going to be a big, big challenge. There's no question about that," said Todd Perrin, who laid off staff at Mallard Cottage and Water West Kitchen and Meats after last Friday's announcement.

Speaking on CBC Radio's CrossTalk, Perrin said his businesses have been taking it one day at a time since March.

"Like everybody in every industry there are kind of a lot of unknowns, but we've been doing some significant bobbing and weaving, and we've been luckier than many other people in the country in our business," he said.

Restaurants Canada, a not-for-profit organization representing the nation's food service industry, said in a media release this week that half of the country's restaurants are at risk of closing within the next six months.

According to their report, eight out of 10 businesses are either operating at a loss or just making ends meet.

While many restaurants in this province had been able to operate comparatively unencumbered, the new lockdown may put them in a similarly dire position.

Perrin said that while the industry in Newfoundland and Labrador, which he said employs some 20,000 individuals, has been luckier than elsewhere, restaurants like his simply aren't geared toward a takeout model.

"[Before Valentine's Day] we called all of our reservations and offered for them to have a version of what they were going to have in the restaurant, only to have it at home," said Perrin.

"We had some takers on that, but obviously, it pales in comparison to what a normal weekend would be in the restaurant, certainly Valentine's weekend."

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