Return of full bar seating in Yukon restaurants draws mixed reviews

The co-owner of one restaurant in Whitehorse says being able to have full bar seating again will improve their profitability, while another venue says it won't make much of a difference.

Masks will also no longer be required in indoor public spaces

Brothers Kai Miller, left, and Erik Miller, right, own Polarity Brewing in Whitehorse. Kai Miller says he appreciates having the option to open up four more bar seats as of Wednesday, but he adds it wouldn't have much impact on business. (George Maratos/CBC)

The co-owner of a restaurant in Whitehorse says being able to open all of his bar seating later this week is "really going to make a difference" in the profitability of his business, while another establishment says it'll barely make a difference.

As of Wednesday, the Yukon government is lifting the requirement to wear masks in indoor public spaces and to maintain physical distance from others at bars or counters in restaurants. 

That means the Wayfarer Oyster House can go from having four people seated at the bar back to its full capacity of 12, according to co-owner Eddie Rideout. 

"When we built our floor plan for the restaurant, the bar was a focal point," he said. Being unable to seat more people at the counter has been a "challenge," he said.

"It's a bit of a downer for some folks." 

Rideout said having those eight extra bar seats will be an improvement.

"In all likelihood those eight seats fill twice a night, so that's 16 patrons," he said. "And 16 patrons help pay internet bills and utility bills and staff wages and benefits." 

More bar seating doesn't 'move needle'

At Polarity Brewing in Whitehorse, however, the new measure only opens up four seats. 

"I appreciate having the option to do that, it would be nice to have bar seating, but it doesn't move the needle a lot for us," said Kai Miller, who owns the brewery with his brother, Erik Miller.

"The thing that will change is when people are allowed to mingle and socialize and hang out in groups of more than six, and that's not happening." 

Patrons inside Polarity Brewing in Whitehorse. After sending an anonymous survey to staff, Kai Miller says the establishment would likely maintain its mask mandate for now — but no final decisions have been made yet. (Erik Miller)

Masks or no masks?

Miller said he sent an anonymous survey to staff to see how they would feel about relaxing other pandemic measures — including the removal of mandatory masking, which is taking effect mid-week.

"I think we'll probably maintain our mask mandate at least while there's still cases going around in town," he said, adding that a final decision hasn't been reached yet. 

"I anticipate a lot of people will still be comfortable wearing them. I think we'll have to address it more often. It's a comfort piece for our staff, I believe." 

At Wayfarer, Rideout said his staff are generally looking forward to taking off their masks and being able to communicate a smile with more than just their eyes.

"We're excited to see people's faces," he said.

If patrons and servers want to continue wearing a mask, he added, that's a personal choice that will be respected.

Written by Liny Lamberink, based on interviews by George Maratos and Jackie Hong