Restaurants and pubs across Kamloops and B.C. must cease indoor dining for the next three weeks as the provincial government seeks a “circuit breaker” to curb the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.
The province announced that as of midnight on Monday (March 29), all restaurants and pubs must close to indoor dining until at least April 19, but patio dining and takeout will be permitted. Establishments that only serve snacks or appetizers must close.
The new restriction has given Noble Pig manager Maeghan Summers a case of deja vu.
Having been through a three-month closure last year at the onset of the pandemic, Summers said this one doesn’t feel as daunting, but nonetheless comes with difficult decisions.
“We already have that script pre-written and that makes it a little bit easier, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt any less or is any less challenging,” Summers said.
Summers was busy on Monday afternoon planning how to pivot to the new normal for the restaurant industry in a matter of hours — making myriad changes, from the menu and work schedule to food orders.
Temporary layoffs will have to be made and operating hours are being reduced, she said, noting three weeks without dine-in service will still have a “huge impact” on the downtown restaurant.
During that time, the Noble Pig will have to make do with nearly half its current capacity — just 60 patio seats compared to the 100 seats it had been utilizing inside with social distancing measures. PRe-pandemic, the restaurant could seat about 185 people.
“And the weather isn’t optimum,” Summers said.
The restaurant managed as best it could implementing a take-out option last year when eateries were shuttered, but it’s the liquor and dine-in sales that drive revenues, she said.
“Thankfully, it’s only a three-week go-around instead of three months,” Summers said, noting public safety is a priority.
Summers said she worries about the smaller restaurants and ski resorts that don’t have the same volume the Noble Pig enjoys.
There will undoubtably be an impact across the Kamloops restaurant industry as businesses are forced to shrink capacities yet again, hospitality and tourism consultant Bryce Herman told KTW, projecting the impact as “massive.”
He said for smaller operators that are not able to offer at least a takeout option, Monday’s announcement will force them to shut their doors — possibly for good.
“They’ve been taking it on the chin for over a year,” Herman said, adding there needs to be financial help from government.
Herman said the majority of restaurants in the city appeared to have implemented a takeout option in the past year and he expects the number of those that can’t make the shift to be small.
Thankfully, he said, the timing of the announcement also comes as patio season begins, but given the current chilly weather, the chances of being able to get those up and running before the three-week closure is reviewed might be limited.
Herman said indoor dining “has been the lifeblood” that has kept many restaurants open amidst the pandemic, but noted the government can’t be faulted for having to take measures when COVID-19 cases are increasing.
“I think the industry understands it. Do they like it? No, no one does,” Herman said.
Asked during a press conference on Monday if financial aid will be given to the restaurant sector, Premier John Horgan said it will, noting provincial officials are examining putting in additions to relief programs already in place and “bridge these next three weeks.”
“I don’t want to get into specifics about the next three weeks other than to say that the minister’s on it, the government’s on it, and we’ll have more to say once the programs have been developed,” Horgan said.
The restriction on dining, among other activities announced, comes as B.C. is experiencing a surge in new COVID-19 cases, with more than 2,500 recorded over the weekend.
During Monday’s press conference, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry explained the need to restrict indoor gatherings again comes as a result of the spike cases and hospitalizations and an increase in more contagious COVID-19 variants.
She said there are not yet enough people protected by vaccinations, noting gathering indoors presents the greatest risk of transmission.
“We need a circuit breaker to stop this virus now,” Henry said.