National Post (Latest Edition)

Quebec restaurant owners brace for second wave

Many weighing their options for takeout

- Frédéric Tomesco

MONTREAL• Restaurate­ur Christine Booth said she’s already begun to think about ways to adapt her business model in the event a second C OVID -19 wave sweeps across the province.

“We’re thinking about putting together a new takeout menu so that if people stop going out for a meal, or can’t go out anymore, we can promote that online,” Booth, who co- owns Hudson’s Cozy Café, said in a telephone interview. “We can even start work on a Thanksgivi­ng dinner. This is Round 2. We’ve been through this before.”

Booth is one of several Quebec restaurant owners interviewe­d who are bracing for another wave of shutdowns if Quebec’s health situation keeps deteriorat­ing. The key to surviving the next lockdown, they say, will be to keep expenses down and capitalize on the adjustment­s made throughout the summer.

On Friday, Health Minister Christian Dubé asked Quebecers to avoid all social contacts for the next 28 days as part of the government’s effort to break the second wave of COVID-19. Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s public health director, urged Quebecers to avoid get-togethers of any kind.

“This isn’t the best time to be in the restaurant business,” Olivier de Montigny, chef and co- owner of Montreal’s La Chronique. “Summer without tourists was difficult, and fall isn’t shaping up to be any easier.”

De Montigny said La Chronique got a wave of cancellati­ons Friday night after Arruda urged Quebecers to stay home.

“Telling people to stay home on a Friday, when our refrigerat­ors are full — let’s just say the timing wasn’t ideal,” said de Montigny, who plans to resume La Chronique’s takeout service in the coming days after a summertime pause. “They say the problem comes from private gatherings. So why not encourage people to get together in safe places such as restaurant­s?”

Some, like Booth, say they’re ready to heed the lessons of the first lockdown if and when more stringent public health measures are implemente­d.

“We’re still here, we’re survivors,” Booth said. “Within two weeks last spring, we had our takeout and delivery service up and running. We ran five nights a week, we promoted our dinner online, and we had a half- decent clientele coming. We know we can do this.”

Eve Rozon, co- owner of Les Trois Grâces bistro in Eastman, Que, insists her business is in better shape going into the fall than it was entering the March lockdown.

Right after COVID-19 hit, Les Trois Grâces struck a partnershi­p with a nearby pastry shop to set up a takeout and delivery service. Though joint deliveries have since stopped, Rozon still emails clients a weekly menu of takeout options every Monday morning that will be available for pickup until Thursday.

“It’s reassuring to know that if the health situation worsens, we have this part set up already,” Rozon said in a telephone interview. “Takeout gives you a certain stability, as long as you can promote your service adequately though social media. We have our customer base, our suppliers lined up. We’ll be ready to go.”

Since COVID-19, Les Trois Grâces has been operating on reduced hours, four days a week, with fewer employees. Rozon and her business partner, meanwhile, have been coming into work every day.

“It’s not the ideal situation, but we’ve found a way not to go crazy,” Rozon said.

Some establishm­ents, such as Montreal’s Alexandre bistro, have avoided the takeout route altogether. Owner Alain Creton cites the “exorbitant” fees charged by delivery services, adding Alexandre’s menu — with options such as steak tartare — doesn’t lend itself well to the concept.

Generous rent and wage subsidy programs from the federal government have helped cushion COVID-19’S blow, stressed Creton.

“Federal subsidies are giving us a big shot in the arm,” he said. “I don’t want to imagine what would happen if they eliminated that. As long as the federal government is there to back restaurant owners, we’re going to be fine.”

Added de Montigny: “Thank God, the federal government is there. Quebec found hundreds of millions of dollars to help the Cirque du Soleil, but didn’t do a thing for the restaurant industry. We feel abandoned.”

Creton is critical of what he said are mixed messages from government authoritie­s. While provincial officials are urging people to stop from going out, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante has been asking Montrealer­s to rediscover the city’s downtown core, said Alexandre’s longtime owner.

“There’s a lot of confusion,” Creton said.

Second wave or not, restaurate­urs all agree they will need a break when 2020 comes to a close. Eastman’s Les Trois Grâces is planning to close for five weeks from late December through Valentine’s Day, if the co- owner has her way.

“We’re going to need the rest,” Rozon said. “After going through 2020, it’s going to be even more important to recharge our batteries to face the summer season. Who knows what that will be like?”

 ?? Alle n Mcinnis / MONTREAL GAZETTE ?? “We know we can do this,” says Montreal restaurate­ur Christine Booth, who says her business was able to adapt on the fly during the dark days of March and April.
Alle n Mcinnis / MONTREAL GAZETTE “We know we can do this,” says Montreal restaurate­ur Christine Booth, who says her business was able to adapt on the fly during the dark days of March and April.

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