PEI

Famine to feast: Some P.E.I. restaurants face turning away diners

Some of P.E.I.'s larger restaurant owners say the current COVID-19 restriction of 50 patrons inside venues could have a negative impact on their businesses once the Atlantic bubble comes into effect on July 3. 

Possible Atlantic bubble boom brings calls for higher capacity

Local restaurant owners like Carl Nicholson of the New Glasgow Lobster Suppers say they're worried they'll be forced to turn people away once the Atlantic bubble sets in. (New Glasgow Lobster Suppers)

Owners at some of P.E.I.'s larger restaurants say the current COVID-19 restrictions limiting them to 50 patrons at a time could have a negative impact on their businesses once the Atlantic bubble comes into effect on July 3. 

Under the province's current health measures, a maximum of 50 people would be allowed inside a dining room at once, with no more than six people occupying any table.

Carl Nicholson, general manager of the New Glasgow Lobster Suppers says he's worried the business will be forced to turn people away once people are able to travel more freely among the four easternmost provinces of Canada. 

"My fear is that when we open up the bubble, are we going to have enough capacity to meet the demands of the customers that are coming?" 

In a Facebook post on Wednesday night, Nicholson proposed easing the rules further so that restaurants can operate at 50-per-cent capacity. 

'My fear is that when we open up the bubble, are we going to have enough capacity to meet the demands of the customers that are coming?' Carl Nicholson says. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

As soon as the so-called Atlantic bubble was announced, Nicholson said his restaurant began receiving calls from people in the neighbouring provinces, looking to make reservations after next Friday.

"In our facility, we have a large dining room, so we're able to maintain the six feet of social distancing," he said. "Going with a greater amount of people in the dining room, I think we could get up to 130.… When we max out at 50, people are forced to wait." 

Liam Dolan, owner of Peake's Quay, says while he'd like to see restrictions completely lifted, for now he thinks the province needs to look at what's happening in other countries that have been grappling with the pandemic for longer.

"For a very large place, 50 per cent is very hard," he said. He mentions that in some European jurisdictions, a percentage is not used, but restaurants must ensure patrons are at least a certain distance away from other tables. 

'If we get the capacity that we might be able to get, it's still going to hurt it,' says Liam Dolan, owner of Peake's Quay. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

"You've got the New Glasgow Lobster Suppers, they've got capacity of 600… they can only put 100 people in where they're normally putting 300," Dolan said, "We have to come up with a fair and equitable way of doing this and making sure the social distancing is still looked after." 

Dolan said he was forced to turn people away last Friday night and he foresees having to do that in the future as well, as long as the restrictions remain the way they are now. 

"We will be turning people away, no question about it," he said. "Most restaurants will be turning people away.

"If we get the capacity that we might be able to get, it's still going to hurt it." 

Liam Dolan says he wants restaurants to be able to capitalize on travellers from neighbouring provinces once the Atlantic bubble is established in July. (Tony Davis/CBC)

Dolan said he'll be meeting Saturday with a group of local restaurant owners to come up with some ideas on what they would like to see happen in terms of restrictions. The plan is to approach the Chief Public Health Office once a consensus is reached. 

"As we open up, as things go ahead, we'd like to capture some of these people now.… We have a very short window to do it in our tourism season," he said. 

"We won't have the cruise ships, we don't have the bus tour business, and we don't have the convention business. We've lost three sectors of our business that will not be here this year, so we're depending strictly on the street traveller from Atlantic Canada." 

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Angela Walker

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