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

Mary Ellen Campbell, president of the Parksville Museum, visits the PQB News/VI Free Daily studio. (Peter McCully photo)
PQBeat: A chat with Parksville Museum president Mary Ellen Campbell

Podcast: Talk includes plans for 2021, dealing with COVID-19 and more

Eaglecrest Golf Club plans to operate as a nine-hole course starting April 1. (Eaglecrest Facebook photo)
Eaglecrest Golf Club in Qualicum Beach still plans to have course layout reduced to 9 holes

Town council continues to negotiate lease for 18-hole operation

A rendering of a proposed housing development located across from the beachfront in Qualicum Beach. (Submitted photo)
Multi-residential development planned across from Qualicum Beach waterfront

Residents raise variety of concerns about project

Proprietor of Sweet Truck, Morgan Ray, as she hands off her baked goods to a customer. (Photo courtesy of Avrinder Dhillon Photography)
COVID-19: Qualicum Beach baker eyes move back from food truck to bricks and mortar

Storefront offers more stability amid growth in sales: Ray

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, start with the vaccination of police officers in internal police vaccination centers. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
B.C. officials to unveil new details of COVID vaccination plan Monday

Seniors and health-care workers who haven’t gotten their shot are next on the list

A boat caught fire in Ladysmith Harbour on Saturday morning. (Photo submitted)
Search underway for missing woman after boat catches fire in Ladysmith harbour

A large boat caught fire on the morning of Saturday, Feb. 27

Lone orca from a pod that made its way north from Georgia Strait and into Discovery Passage on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. Photo by Ella Smiley/<a href="https://www.facebook.com/Comoxvalleywildlifesightings/?ref=page_internal" target="_blank">Comox Valley Wildlife Sightings </a>
Island wildlife viewers thrilled by close view of passing Orca pod

Group gives wildlife photographers a classic opportunity to view them off Campbell River shoreline

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man shot and killed by RCMP near Tofino, police watchdog investigating

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s compromise on in-person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Would allow outdoor services of 25 or less by Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack churches

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)
Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. addict says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Most Read