Nova Scotia

N.S. bars, restaurants hope increased capacity means more customer confidence

Most Nova Scotia bars and restaurants won't hit 100 per cent capacity even now that they are allowed to do so, but some in the industry see the change as a vote of confidence.

'All those efforts go a long way towards just making people feel more comfortable'

Brendan Doherty, co-owner of the Old Triangle, stands in the newly arranged pub in Halifax on June 4. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Most Nova Scotia bars and restaurants won't hit 100 per cent capacity even though it's allowed, but some in the industry see the change as a vote of confidence to get people in the door.

The province hit 19 days without a new case of COVID-19 in the province on Sunday. The weekend marked the first one since various restrictions were eased on Friday.

Restaurants and bars can now operate at full capacity and serve patrons until midnight.

Brendan Doherty, owner of The Old Triangle Irish Alehouse in downtown Halifax, said nothing has physically changed for them with the new allowances. 

They still need to make sure tables are distanced two metres apart to follow public health rules, so they can't seat more than what they already had in place under the 50 per cent limit.

But Doherty said he was happy to see the restriction lifted anyway, since the 50 per cent rule seemed to make many nervous.

"We were seeing and hearing just from some people that the 50 per cent capacity was kind of almost playing like a mental game with some people … because a lot ... are still very apprehensive to come out and eat," Doherty said. 

Allowing bars and eateries to fill if possible gave the public "a little more confidence" that things were returning to some version of normal, Doherty said.

Even though their space does have a second floor they can open up for more visitors, Doherty said a lack of demand has been more of an issue than capacity.

Customers eat lunch next to a table closed for social distancing at Bad Daddy's Burger Bar in Smyrna, Ga., in April. (Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters)

But, Doherty said every week is busier than the last so he's hopeful the new rules help bring out even more people.

Nova Scotians are fortunate to have so many local bars, restaurants and breweries right across the province, Doherty said. He said many are really struggling after months of lost revenue.

"Going out to eat is not a scary thing. You know, the precautions are in place, everyone's taking it fairly seriously," Doherty said.

"Any place you enjoy going, you should just get out and do it because all restaurants and bars need it right now."

Increasing capacity 'means nothing'

For Liz Ingram-Chambers, owner of Le Bistro by Liz in Halifax, the province's announcement was exciting until she realized it was actually a "ridiculous thing to say."

Like Doherty, she said distancing their tables means she still has to operate at less than half capacity. The province's lifted restrictions "means nothing" besides what appears to be a positive twist on a tough ongoing situation, she said.

In fact, the word of 100 per cent capacity confused many patrons who arrived at the restaurant and were surprised to see the tables spaced apart, Ingram-Chambers said.

But she is hopeful that the public take the announcement has a "psychological boost" to make people more comfortable when they dine out.

Ingram-Chambers noted while they have removed all table cloths to sanitize properly between customers, and all servers are in masks, she'd like to see "more following up" from health inspectors since that is not the case at other establishments.

Paul MacKinnon, CEO of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission, agreed that most restaurants won't be able to get to 100 per cent capacity, but he said the extended hours will hopefully be "helpful" for businesses looking for any revenue they can get.

Paul MacKinnon is the executive director of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission. (Steve Berry/CBC)

He also said that while all levels of government have been great at getting out the early pandemic message to stay home as much as possible, one downside is it may have worked a little too well.

Now, it's important to get across a message that bars, restaurants and shops are safe as long as everyone is following health protocols, or many businesses may not survive, MacKinnon said.

He said the business commission is working with restaurants to help them create more floor space where possible, like creating larger sidewalk patios.

That also includes working with the Halifax Regional Municipality to narrow laneways and close streets, MacKinnon said.

More picnic tables and outdoor seating along Argyle Street is also part of the plan.

"All those efforts go a long way towards just making people feel more comfortable about coming back out and enjoying life," MacKinnon said.

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