It’s been a long, hard road, but Ontario indoor dining is finally back on the menu.
The province moved to Step 3 of its reopening plan on July 16, five days earlier than previously scheduled. That has seen indoor dining in the province open up again for the first time since Easter weekend at the start of April.
In Toronto and Peel Region, where COVID-19 cases have typically been highest and health orders have been the strictest, restaurant dining rooms have been shut down since fall 2020. Toronto’s shutdown is thought to have been the longest in the world, and Ontario had been left as the only jurisdiction in North America not allowing people to eat inside restaurants.
That has changed now, though, and dramatically. Due to Ontario’s encouraging trend in case numbers and hospitalization of COVID-19, combined with high vaccinations rates, indoor dining has opened up without any capacity limits.
That means operators can welcome back as many patrons as can fit in their establishment while still maintaining proper social distancing. Tables must be two metres apart or otherwise separated by plexiglass or another impermeable barrier. The size of each party seated indoors or outdoors will no longer be limited to six.
“I didn’t see any reason to hold us back given that so many Ontarians are coming forward – almost 200,000 per day are coming forward (for vaccination),” Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kieran Moore said.
Tony Elenis, President and CEO of the Ontario Restaurant, Hotel, and Motel Association (ORHMA), said that recent months of waiting to reopen has “tested our patience”.
However, he noted “we are very pleased” about the move to Step 3.
“ORHMA has worked with many government officials on an open model that is meaningful for both hotels and restaurants and supports the road to recovery stage,” Elenis said in a statement. “Our focus is now on the next journey that lies ahead including maximizing meeting and events space as well as maintaining relief support in an industry that is hurting. We are safely ready to reopen and welcome all our customers, whom we have missed for the past 16 months.”
Dan Kelly, President and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), told Global News soon after the announcement: “Finally, finally, finally small businesses have some light at the end of the tunnel. The world’s longest lockdown will come to an end. It is so, so long overdue and really is some solid good news for small business owners across Ontario.”
Some way still to go
However, while Ontario indoor dining is back on the table, Kelly noted that the province remains behind others such as Alberta, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia in terms of its reopening.
“We’re still way, way behind. Most indoor activities [aside from restaurants] will come along with a 50 per cent capacity restriction,” he said. “For many, that will mean they are just not profitable any time soon. But still, we’ve got to welcome today’s news.”
A spokesperson for CFIB added that while the move is obviously good news,
“for those businesses that face capacity restraints and other restrictions this will not put them on a pathway to breaking even after accumulating an average of over $200,000 in COVID-related debt. They will have to wait until early August for a full reopening under the new plan to move to step 4.”