Restaurants are allowed to reopen, but it's not business as usual

Life after pandemic

The BC government has issued their planned phased approach to reopening the province's economy, which includes allowing some sit-down dining in restaurants. Seating in restaurants have been closed to the public since mid-March, and restaurants are eager to start opening their spaces.

"It's definitely a welcome notice from the ministry, and we feel confident that we will be able to reopen in line with the guidelines," says James Fradley, co-owner of The Med in Vernon. "Those guidelines will help us make sure we ensure the safety of our staff and patrons that are excited to get back to some sort of a normal lifestyle again."

One of the guidelines that is in place is restricted seating, which means restaurants must adhere to social distancing policy as outlined by the province. This means restaurants will be running at about 50 per cent capacity, which may make it difficult for some spots to financially recover from the closures.

Half-capacity restaurants may also mean not all staff gets hired back straight away, which can be a tricky situation when it comes to Employment Insurance.

"This aspect will be taken on a case-by-case basis on both the employer and employee side of things, because on one hand you may want to hire only a few staff back right away and see how business goes," says Fradley. "But on the other hand I think it's important to bring back as many people as possible into some sort of work environment — for example you could balance the number of hours so it doesn't impact EI qualifications."

Even though The Med appears to be in good shape for reopening, there are a significant number of restaurants across the country that aren't quite as lucky. A survey from Restaurants Canada indicated that seven out of 10 of their survey respondents said they are either very or extremely worried that their business won’t have enough liquidity to pay vendors, rent and other expenses over the next three months.

At least one out of five independent restaurant operators are dealing with a landlord who is not willing to provide rent relief, and 14 per cent of independent restaurants haven’t been able to pay rent for April and nearly 20 per cent aren’t able to pay rent for May, despite not having an agreement from their landlord to postpone those payments.

While the outlook may seem bleak for many restaurants, the places that are still standing are trying to focus on the silver lining that came from this pandemic. Businesses had to get creative to stay afloat, and they may add those features to their regular repertoire once life gets back to normal.

"Businesses had to get creative to generate some sort of revenue stream — for example, we had a traditional restaurant experience, but now we also have a takeout express option," says Fradley. "I can see many restaurants and other businesses taking these adapted models and keeping them going in the future."

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