Chairs and bar stools are stored at a pizza restaurant in Montreal, on Wednesday, September 30, 2020. As restaurants across the country fight to survive, industry watchers say there is growing frustration over a lack of data that conclusively links restaurants to COVID-19 infections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Chairs and bar stools are stored at a pizza restaurant in Montreal, on Wednesday, September 30, 2020. As restaurants across the country fight to survive, industry watchers say there is growing frustration over a lack of data that conclusively links restaurants to COVID-19 infections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Frustration grows amid restaurateurs over lack of data linking industry to COVID-19

B.C. is one of few jurisdictions allowing indoor dining in second wave

Like many B.C. restaurateurs, the partner in Gooseneck Hospitality — which operates popular Vancouver restaurants Wildebeest, Bufala, Lucky Taco and Bells & Whistles — was looking to New Year’s Eve as a rare bright spot amid the misery that has defined the industry throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead, the province blindsided the sector with an 11th-hour decision to ban liquor sales after 8 p.m. on Dec. 31, leaving businesses with kitchens and bars full of product that they wouldn’t be able to sell.

“The debacle that became New Year’s Eve really hurt us,” said Iranzad.

“We took all these reservations and spent a lot of money bringing in food and drink that’s specific to one night and then they impose this restriction on us at the very last minute,” he said. “It was just unconscionable to me. It’s so irresponsible to do that to an industry.”

As restaurants across the country fight to survive, industry watchers say there is growing frustration over a lack of data that conclusively links restaurants to COVID-19 infections.

The lockdown measures across the country that ban indoor dining have taken an enormous toll. More than 10,000 restaurants have permanently closed while legions of waiters, servers and bartenders have been laid off, according to data from Restaurants Canada.

Even among restaurants that remain open, eight in 10 are either losing money or barely scraping by, the association said.

And as industry proponents like to point out, many provinces have continued to see a spike in cases despite a ban on indoor dining.

Of the roughly 266,363 cumulative COVID-19 cases in Ontario, only about 575 infections have been linked to an exposure at a restaurant, bar or nightclub, according to provincial data.

But a spokeswoman with Ontario’s Ministry of Health said indoor dining is regarded as a higher risk activity “given what we know about how the virus transmits from person to person.”

“That’s the reason why restaurants are open for takeout and delivery only,” Anna Miller said in an email.

She added that if the spread of the virus is not contained, it often results in widespread community transmission that can’t be traced back to a specific setting.

The Quebec government has also imposed restrictions, and Quebec restaurant and bar owners were incensed last month after finding out the closure of dining rooms was not recommended by public health.

“Restaurants have been closed since October and we still see numbers steadily rising,” said Julie Couture, a spokeswoman for Quebec’s restaurant association.

“We’re clearly not the problem but we can be part of the solution,” she said. “It’s better for these gatherings to take place in supervised environments with protective equipment and frequent sanitization.”

Adding to the frustrations of restaurant owners is the money spent redesigning their spaces to allow for physical distancing, installing Plexiglas barriers, increasing ventilation, adding air filters and ensuring proper sanitization measures – only to be closed.

In B.C., where indoor dining has continued with restrictions, the province does not have clear data on whether it’s a notable source of transmission.

“We don’t have the specific number of cases that are directly linked to transmission at restaurants, bars and nightclubs, but we do know that the virus easily spreads when we gather in groups,” Sabreena Thouli, a spokeswoman for the B.C. Ministry of Health, said in an email.

READ MORE: Over 1,500 COVID orders issued after workplace inspections in B.C.

Yet it’s that lack of concrete data that is causing consternation in the industry, said Cyrus Cooper, a professor of restaurant management at Centennial College in Toronto.

“A lot of restaurants are saying, ‘Show us the proof as to why this closure of indoor dining is needed,’” he said.

“There is a sense of frustration with respect to why the decisions are being made and the data backing up those decisions. That’s what restaurateurs want to know.”

The industry is willing to adapt and make adjustments to keep people safe, said Restaurants Canada vice-president James Rilett.

“This is an industry that wants to follow the rules and keep customers and staff safe,” he said. “What we’d like is for governments to look at our industry and say, ‘What are the things we can do to keep them open,’ as opposed to ‘How long can we keep them closed.’”

If governments don’t start working with restaurants on a solution, Rilett warned there could be a backlash.

“Many people are at the breaking point. They’re looking at their bills and thinking, ‘This is the end for my business.”

Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusRestaurants

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Katherine Swampy
Maskwacis chiefs are opposed to RAPID Response

Alberta Treaty 6 First Nations say they were not properly consulted

UCP Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Ron Orr spoke to the Ponoka Chamber about the potential a new provincial government would provide to help support small business.
File photo
MLA Ron Orr: ‘Our constituents … want us to defend their livelihoods and freedoms’

Lacombe-Ponoka MLA stands with 15 other UCP members calling out retreat on restrictions

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
O’Toole to vote against Conservative MP’s private bill on ‘sex-selective abortion’

Erin O’Toole said he supports a woman’s right to choose and will personally vote against the private member’s bill

A health-care worker holds up a vial of the AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Montreal, Thursday, March 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
PHAC receives first report of blood clot linked to AstraZeneca

The federal agency says the person is now recovering at home

A real estate sign is pictured in Vancouver, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS Jonathan Hayward
1 in 3 young Canadians have given up on owning a home: poll

Data released Monday says 36% of adults younger than 40 have given up on home ownership entirely

Ryan Applegarth
Applegarth’s murder charges proceed

Ryan Jake Applegarth, charged with the second degree murder of Chantelle Firingstoney,… Continue reading

Dr. E. Kwok administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a recipient at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Most Canadians plan to get COVID-19 vaccine, but safety fears drive hesitancy: poll

This comes as confidence in governments is plummeting in provinces being hit hardest by the pandemic

Marathon of Hope runner Terry Fox is shown in a 1981. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/CP)
Terry Fox’s legacy of resilience resonates during COVID-19 crisis, says brother

Fred Fox said his brother’s legacy of resilience has taken on renewed resonance as COVID-19 rages on

Madelyn Boyko poses along with a number of the bath bombs she makes with her mom, Jessica Boyko. Madelyn says she enjoys making the bath bombs with her mom as it is a special time for just the two of them. (Photo Submitted)
5-year-old Sylvan Lake girl selling bath bombs in support of younger brother

Madelyn Boyko is selling bath bombs for CdLS research in honour of her younger brother

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa, Monday March 23, 2020. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is raising its estimate for the number of businesses that are considering the possibility of closing permanently. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

President Dan Kelly said it is crucial to maintain programs to help businesses to the other side of the pandemic

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians says that includes attempts to steal Canadian research on COVID-19 and vaccines, and sow misinformation. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Intelligence committee warns China, Russia targeting Canadian COVID-19 research

Committee also found that the terrorist threat to Canada has shifted since its last such assessment

Most Read