Nova Scotia

What restaurants will look like in the 'new normal' of Nova Scotia

It's been almost 50 days since Nova Scotia shut down bars and dine-in restaurants over the COVID-19 outbreak, and reopening them will be a long, slow process, an industry representative said Wednesday.

No condiments on tables, smaller menus and fewer tables are some of the expected changes, says industry rep

Many restaurants had to close their doors when the Nova Scotia government put in restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Prostock-studio/Shutterstock)

It's been almost 50 days since Nova Scotia shut down bars and dine-in restaurants over the COVID-19 outbreak, and reopening them will be a long, slow process, an industry representative said Wednesday.

"It's been pretty brutal on a lot of restaurants," said Gordon Stewart, the executive director of the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia.

RANS has sent its reopening proposal to the provincial government so that public health officials can offer advice.

"I think the biggest concern we have to wrap our heads around is what that new normal will look like. The two key words for pace would be 'slow and gradual.' And in the background would be 'safety and health,'" he said.

The reopened restaurants will be thoroughly cleaned and likely have no condiments on tables, smaller menus, fewer employees and fewer customers. Stewart expects restaurants will have to remove half their tables to ensure room for physical distancing. That could cut sales by half or more.

Gordon Stewart is the executive director of the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia. (CBC)

The proposal doesn't include dates for reopening; he said they'll defer to public health officials for that. "We're probably talking about between now and the end of the year before everything is back up to almost normal," he said.

Restaurants have lost nearly two months of revenue and will face steep bills to reopen, he said. "It is expensive to start up, restock, re-clean. Most people don't have that in their bank accounts."

Stewart said his members have no complaints about the government's handling of the situation, but he said some landlords not deferring rent are the "single biggest issue we're facing."

"There will be a lot of landlords that will lose tenants and not be able to replace them," he said.

Premier Stephen McNeil said Tuesday that they're reviewing the RANS proposal. "We are reaching out beyond government looking for ideas and support on how we can safely reopen the economy to ensure that when we do open it that we don't have another relapse and have to tighten up controls again," McNeil said.

Nova Scotia declared a state of emergency on March 22 to help contain the spread of COVID-19. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

He wouldn't say how much notice his government will give businesses about reopening, nor would he say when that would happen. "Public health will determine that," he said.

McNeil said he expected Nova Scotia to reopen businesses before it fully reopens the New Brunswick border, which is closed to all but essential travel, which includes trucking.

The province also contacted Jim Cormier, the Atlantic director of the Retail Council of Canada. His organization represents hundreds of businesses in the region, from small, independent shops to grocery giants.

Cormier said they're looking at a plan that marries public safety to getting back to business.

Many retailers shut down weeks ago and will struggle to reopen, he said. Others have added online and delivery options to keep the lights on, while some — the grocery stores — have been doing more business than usual.

'One extreme to the other'

"It's very challenging, from one extreme to the other," he said Wednesday. "And at the same time, [they're] dealing with concerns — legitimate concerns — from staff about what COVID means for them. Do I want to come into work? Is it a safe work environment?"

He said his members will defer to public health when it comes to getting back to work. He expects most shops will reopen with reduced stock, fewer staff and fewer customers. But they will be sparklingly clean.

It could take a year to get back to regular business, he said. "I don't want to paint a doom-and-gloom picture. Retailers are nothing if not resilient and there will be people who come back."

The Halifax Chamber of Commerce said it has talked to Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health. But the chamber chair and president both declined to be interviewed.

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