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

Pastafarian Gary Smith, pictured here dressed as a pirate, wanted to wear his tricorn (also pictured here) in his driver’s licence photo, arguing that the display was a religious observance. Photo: Facebook
B.C. Pastafarian loses Supreme Court fight to wear pirate hat in driver’s licence photo

Grand Forks’ Gary Smith put his case to the Supreme Court in Rossland early last month

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. seniors aged 90+ can start to sign up for vaccination on March 8

Long-term care residents protected by shots already given

BC Ambulance Crews prepare to evacuate a sick Greenwood boy by helicopter on Friday, Feb. 26. Photo: Submitted
Greenwood boy taken to hospital by BC Ambulance helicopter

Greenwood volunteer firefighters helped prepare the chopper’s landing

Sylvain Fabi, Canada’s chief negotiator for the Columbia River Treaty, joined a number of government and Indigenous government stakeholders for a virtual town hall on Feb. 24, 2021, to update the state of the Columbia River Treaty negotiations. Trevor Crawley photo/Zoom screenshot
Indigenous input key to Columbia River Treaty negotiations

Ecosystem function included in negotiations along with flood management and power generation priorities

Thursday, Feb. 4: RDKB Chief Engineer Darryl Funk hoists a banner commemorating last year’s championship season by the Bantam House Bruins. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Bantam Bruins honoured at hair-raising banner ceremony at Grand Forks’ Jack Goddard Arena

Asst. coach Mike Tollis said he reluctantly gave in to the team’s victory wish that he cut his pony tale

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation, May 8, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C.’s weekend COVID-19 cases: 532 Saturday, 508 Sunday, 438 Monday

Fraser Health still has most, eight more coronavirus deaths

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

B.C. Attorney General David Eby speaks in the legislature, Dec. 7, 2020. Eby was given responsibility for housing after the October 2020 provincial election. (Hansard TV)
B.C. extends COVID-19 rent freeze again, to the end of 2021

‘Renoviction’ rules tightened, rent capped to inflation in 2022

Face mask hangs from a rear-view mirror. (Black Press image)
B.C. CDC unveils guide on how to carpool during the pandemic

Wearing masks, keeping windows open key to slowing the spread of COVID-19

Churches, including Langley’s Riverside Calvary Church, are challenging the regulations barring them from holding in-person worship services during COVID-19. (Langley Advance Times file)
Gas prices jumped in Golden to 131.9c this week, a trend that's supposed to continue into the summer. (Claire Palmer/Golden Star)
Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Clovechok concerned as gas prices continue to rise

Fuel prices are supposed to skyrocket this summer as British Columbians await BCUC analysis

The area shaded in yellow was purchased last year by the Regional District of Central Kootenay. The purple area is the current purchase. Map: Submitted
Cottonwood Lake fundraiser reaches goal

The Nelson community group has raised $400,000 to purchase 40 hectares of forest

Det. Sgt. Jim Callender. (Hamilton Police Service screenshot)
B.C. man dead, woman seriously injured after shooting in Hamilton, Ont.

The man was in the process of moving to the greater Toronto area, police say

Most Read