Restaurant owners stress public needs clear direction on capacity
Some local restaurant owners say the provincial government’s announcement of Stage 2 of the economic relaunch is resulting in public confusion about the number of guests allowed to be served at a time.
In unveiling the next step of the relaunch strategy on Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney announced restaurants, bars, pubs and cafes would be allowed to open at 100 per cent capacity starting Friday. However, the Alberta Hospitality Association says it wasn’t made clear enough that the same two-metre distancing and six-person limit per table restrictions are still in place.
Ernie Tsu, owner of Trolley 5 and founding board member of AHA, said there is confusion from the public because most restaurants can’t expand their capacity any more because of safety restrictions. Of the reservation calls they’ve received at Trolley 5 since the Stage 2 announcement, about 60 per cent have been for groups of more than six people.
“We have people calling in for tables of 20 or 15 people,” said Tsu.
“It’s very misguided … Saying we are able to operate at 100 per cent capacity should be retracted because it’s not accurate. They can’t make the statement that we’re serving at 100 per cent capacity until the two-metre rule is removed.”
In his announcement, Kenney did say the restrictions remain in place but Tsu is concerned this got lost in the message because most restaurants are already operating at maximum capacity, which is between 20 to 50 per cent of regular seating. Tsu said some restaurants that haven’t been able to open still won’t be able to in Stage 2.
He’s hoping the government will clarify this point with the public on Friday, or that Alberta Health will adjust the two-metre distancing restriction to one or one-anda-half metres to allow for more seating.
Leslie Echino’s restaurant Annabelle’s Kitchen has been operating at about 25 per cent capacity, which is the maximum she can accommodate under the two-metre distancing rules.
However, she and her crew have measured it out and if the rule were to change to one-and-a-half metres, their capacity would jump significantly.
“Between all three of my restaurants, I would be serving at about 70 per cent capacity if that were to change … Trying to explain to our guests that it doesn’t mean we can seat more at a table or more in the restaurant is a downer,” said Echino, who is also a founding board member of AHA.
A safe environment could be maintained with a reduced mandatory distance because of the precautions being taken by staff, she added. She hasn’t reopened the doors of Bar Annabelle yet because the two-metre rule wouldn’t let her seat enough people. She’s worried about what the future holds for restaurant owners.
“I can’t see all of this being viable and being able to pay the rent down the road and in the winter when there are no patio spaces,” she said. “Supporting local is so important right now.”
There is an option to install Plexiglas barriers between tables to safely allow for more seating, although Echino said it would be a several-thousand-dollar investment that she isn’t sure would be worth it for many restaurants.
Alberta Health spokesman Tom Mcmillan said the restrictions in place are necessary to minimize the risk of transmission of infection while dining out.
“While the seating capacity requirement has been removed to potentially allow more people into restaurants (where safe to do so), physical distancing measures and table limits remain necessary to prevent transmission of the virus,” Mcmillan said in a statement.
The situation in Alberta is being continuously monitored, he added, so adjustments will be made when it is deemed safe to do so.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi said during Thursday’s news conference that city officials are still busy with outdoor patio applications to allow for more space.
“I noticed the patios are busy, which I like,” said Nenshi. “If you as a patron have questions, the restaurant knows so don’t fight with them … The future is in your clean hands.”
He said he has visited two restaurants to support local businesses and was impressed by the protocols put in place to meet the provincial government’s restrictions.
Patios like the one at James Joyce Irish Pub & Restaurant are “are busy, which I like,” said Mayor Naheed Nenshi.