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

The Cowichan Capitals traded defenceman Clark Webster to his hometown Summerside Western Capitals. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Hopeful Cowichan Capitals make flurry of deadline deals

Roster bolstered in case BCHL season gets go-ahead

Neurologist and medical educator Dr. Alexandre Henri-Bhargava, seen here speaking at the 2020 Breakfast to Remember in Victoria, will delve into the latest in dementia research during an interactive research event exclusively for attendees of this year’s virtual Breakfast. Access to the March 10 research event is included with the purchase of a Breakfast to Remember ticket. (Kevin Light Photography)
Blast off with Chris Hadfield at Alzheimer Society’s Breakfast to Remember in March

The Society hopes people in all corners of the province will make the most of this opportunity

The City of Duncan will implement a new pilot project targeting vandalism this spring. (File photo)
Duncan initiates pilot project to deal with graffiti

Project based on a successful one in Port Alberni

The victim of the homicide on Cowichan Lake Road early Monday morning was 17 years old, and was stabbed in the incident. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Duncan homicide victim was 17 years old

RCMP report that teenager was stabbed

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding COVID-19 for British Columbia in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
7 additional deaths and 542 new COVID-19 cases in B.C.

Provincial health officials reported 18 new COVID-19 cases linked to variants of concern

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

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson (Office of the Chief Justice)
Judge questions whether B.C.’s top doctor appreciated right to religious freedom

Lawyer for province says Dr. Henry has outlined the reasons for her orders publicly

A sample of guns seized at the Pacific Highway border crossing from the U.S. into B.C. in 2014. Guns smuggled from the U.S. are used in criminal activity, often associated with drug gangs. (Canada Border Service Agency)
B.C. moves to seize vehicles transporting illegal firearms

Bill bans sale of imitation or BB guns to young people

BC Housing minister David Eby is concerned that Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter will result in a “tent city” similar to this one in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / Black Press file)
‘Disappointed and baffled’ B.C. housing minister warns of tent city in Penticton

Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter could create tent city, says David Eby

This was the scene outside North Saanich’s Parkland Secondary School after an attempted but unsuccessful break-and-enter into the school torched an ATM inside of it. Sidney/North Saanich RCMP did not make any arrests and currently lack suspects as the investigation continues. Members of the public who may have witnessed something or possess other information can contact police at (250) 656-3931 or to Crimestoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS. (Submitted)
Money to burn: burglars torch North Saanich high school ATM

Police dogs searched the exterior and interior of the school after early morning break-and-enter

A recently published study out of UBC has found a link between life satisfaction levels and overall health. (Pixabay)
Satisfied with life? It’s likely you’re healthier for it: UBC study

UBC psychologists have found those more satisfied with their life have a 26% reduced risk of dying

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Federal panel recommends 4-month gap between COVID vaccine doses due to limited supply

The recommendation applies to all COVID-19 vaccines currently approved in Canada

t
Province invests $2M in three Vancouver Island food hubs

Hub network provides shared-use processing facilities to small agri-businesses

Most Read