BC indoor dining reopens after 2 months

Restaurants in British Columbia can reopen for BC indoor dining on May 25, when the province’s “circuit-breaker” measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 expire. 

Indoor dining in the province had been closed since March 29.

The provincial update on COVID-19 recovery on Tuesday afternoon confirmed that from May 25, people can eat indoors with up to six people at a table until 10 p.m.

That mirrors the rules for indoor dining that were in place before the “circuit-breaker” restrictions took effect. If coronavirus infection rates continue to fall and vaccination rates continue rising, that cut-off would extend to midnight as early as June 15.

Frustration at lack of communication

While the circuit-breaker timed out on May 25, the foodservice industry has expressed frustration at the lack of clarity on where BC indoor dining stands. The government did not confirm that indoor dining would be returning or whether the current restrictions would be extended until the afternoon of May 25, hours after the “circuit-breaker” expired at 12:01 a.m. on May 25.

Ian Tostenson, president of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association, chastised the government for their lack of communication.

He said, per CTV: “The reality is the health orders being off gives restaurants permission to open on Tuesday. We’ve asked the industry to open with the protocols they had in place before the close, so that’s the distancing, stay with your bubble for now until we hear otherwise.”

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That uncertainty has caused havoc for many restaurateurs.

“The big thing is staffing,” said Cody Allmin, co-owner of East Vancouver restaurant Published on Main, per CBC. “We normally send our schedules out weeks in advance to our teams so that they can plan their lives out.”

Meanwhile, Inez Cook, co-founder and owner of Vancouver’s Salmon n’ Bannock Bistro in Vancouver, expressed frustration at the lack of advance notice.

“It’s frustrating for us as business owners. I will say that the restrictions … had been quite confusing for many people for the longest time. And I’m just hoping we get some clear directive,” Cook said, per CityNews. “We had some expensive lessons that we learned over the past several months. So this time, we’re being extremely cautious. And if the restrictions are lifted, and we’re able to recommence with dine-in, we’re going to start small, and I think the customers are going to understand that.”

Carl McCreath, president of restaurant operations for Steamworks Restaurant Group, told CTV: “I figured the circuit breaker’s over Tuesday. It was not crystal clear, but we feel like it’s clear enough that we’re going to get the dining rooms ready and if we get told to suddenly put the brakes on it, then we will.”

Earlier this year, the province had given restaurants less than a day’s notice before implementing indoor restrictions, resulting in significant food waste.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said that while the restart plan confirmed on Tuesday will outline the route the province will take, people should not expect an immediate, full-scale reopening.

The change in status of BC indoor dining would be the latest pivot by a Canadian province amid the varied and changing status of COVID-19 across Canada.

At the end of April, Nova Scotia shut down indoor dining in a new shutdown aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19. That shutdown is still in place. Meanwhile, Alberta also shut down indoor dining on April 9 as the province moved back to Step 1 of its pandemic-recovery plan until further notice.

Patio permit fees waived

Meanwhile, to aid the process of reopening and recovery in Vancouver, the city’s council has voted to waive patio permit fees for 2021 in light of the extreme financial difficulties many restaurants continue to face.

“It’s really considerate of the city to do that,” said Tostenson, per CBC. “At a time where restaurants have been struggling … every little bit helps.”

Refunds will be issued to any business that has already paid its annual permit fee.

A typical permit fee in Vancouver can range anywhere from around $450 up to $2,800 depending on size. The city estimates waived fees will result in around $1.2 million in reduced revenue for the city.

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Last year, the city introduced a temporary expedited patio program which facilitated quick, low-cost patio options for restaurants. Those permits are also free. The program has been popular, with 544 patios approved for this summer.

Tostenson is hopeful that program will be extended beyond its temporary status.

“It adds to the ambience of the city,” he says. “As tourism comes back, we would be more like European cities where people live on their patios all summer.”