Ontario restaurants

Ontario restaurants can reopen indoor dining from January 31

After a brief period of lockdown, Ontario restaurants can reopen for indoor dining once again starting on January 31.

Eateries in the province were ordered to shut their dining rooms from January 5 for a minimum period of 26 days. That left outdoor dining, takeout, drive-thru, and delivery as the only operations still on the table.

The province appears satisfied that the three-week circuit breaker has done the trick, and it was announced on January 20 that Ontario restaurants will be able to open their dining rooms again on the last day of the month.

They will return to the 50-per-cent capacity limit that was in place before the latest round of closures. Enhanced proof of vaccination with QR codes will continue to apply.

In addition, restaurants and bars will once again be able to serve liquor after 10 p.m., the time which had been set as the late cut-off point under the recent restrictions.

The province will be moving forward with a 21-day period of loosening restrictions. Under that plan, restaurants would be allowed to return to full capacity on February 21.

The province hopes to complete a full economic reopening by mid-March.

Indoor dining in Ontario had reopened in July 2021 after months and months of closure and Ontario restaurants were only finally able to operate without any capacity restrictions from October 25, 2021.

Industry calls for help

While the capacity limits still restrict the business a restaurant can do and the revenues it can take, the reopening of indoor dining will come as a huge boost to operators and staff in the province.

However, Dan Kelly, President of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, called Ontario’s reopening plan “mega slow”.

“Thousands of businesses will lose money every day they are open given biting capacity and other restrictions,” he wrote on Twitter soon after the announcement. “[This offers] no additional help to those facing months of capacity restrictions.”

Tony Elenis, President and CEO of the Ontario Restaurant, Hotel, and Motel Association (ORHMA) said there has been “continuous financial and emotional pressure on an industry that is barely hanging on” and stressed the need for financial support as soon as possible.

“A lot of operators are just at the edge. They are tired, drained, and very frustrated… Hope, at one point, was the only reason why many were keeping their doors open. Now, even hope is a deterrent.”

That call is nothing new.

In a news release on January 19, before the news about the announcement was leaked, Restaurants Canada had called on the province to provide Ontario’s foodservice industry with “clear guidance” on reopening indoor dining.

The association’s president and CEO Todd Barclay warned that restaurants “can’t simply open their doors at a moment’s notice”.

“They need to order food and supplies, schedule staff, and prepare menus,” he said. He added that operators need to know when restrictions will be lifted and what form any continuing restrictions will take.

James Rilett, Restaurants Canada Vice President, Central Canada had said the day before the announcement that Ontario had formed a damaging habit of moving the goalposts with “very little notice and almost no consultation”, per CTV News.

The association also called for more financial support for foodservice businesses to help them recover from the massive debts they have incurred due to restrictions.

“With restaurants across Ontario now taking on more and more debt due to the province’s latest restrictions, ensuring they will have enough cash flow to continue their operations is becoming increasingly critical,” added Rilett.

“Current emergency aid from the provincial government only covers a small portion of losses and leaves out many hard-hit businesses altogether. Our industry deserves sufficient compensation and a seat at the decision-making table to work with government on ways to stop the roller coaster of restaurant closures.”

Resources for restaurateurs

ORHMA has published a list of resources available to restaurant owners and operators in the province ahead of reopening.

That includes advice on table limits, prohibited activities, and more.