Local restaurant owners are sounding grateful to be allowed dine-in services for the first time since Dec. 13, despite questions long-term for their businesses.
“It’s good. It’s nice to hear voices in here that are laughing, and bugging the regulars–haven’t done that in a while. So that’s nice to have that feeling again,” said Jennie Hamel, owner of Jennie’s Diner, which opened bright and early Monday morning.
Now, these operators can only allow six people per table maximum, and they must be from the same household, or are the two close contacts for a person living alone.
For bars, last call for liquor is 10:00pm and in-person service must close by 11:00pm. VLTs, pool tables, and other entertainment is not allowed.
Other restrictions loosened Monday as part of the province’s “path forward” to re-opening with a surprise announcement about team sports being allowed.
Athletes under the age of 18 will be allowed to participate in lessons, practices, and conditioning activities for indoor and outdoor team-based minor sports and athletics. However, all games continue to be prohibited, and indoor activities require a 3-metre physical distance at all times with a maximum of 10 participants.
If three weeks pass and COVID-19 related hospitalizations fall below 450 and continue to decline, the province could move into step 2 of reopening.
Sal Naim, owner of 5 Star Restaurant Group in Bonnyville, said it’s been difficult for the industry over the past year.
He said revenues are down 85-90 per cent, and despite having delivery and curbside pick-up options, sit-down restaurants make their money from patrons in the building.
“It’s certainly not ideal. I mean, you won’t be seeing lineups and people just rushing to the place, it’s not like everything is back to normal. There’s definitely a slow, gradual ramp-up in volume, and it’s just a matter of taking it in stride,” said Naim.
“Making sure that you’re prepared and balanced, and you make sure you’ve got your procedures and protocols in place, and ensure you’re adhering to the rules as they’ve been put forward.”
Jennie’s Diner had opened in late January, one of two Bonnyville restaurants that defied the public health orders, saying they weren’t sure they could continue their business.
Naim said he resonates with that frustration because the bills are still issued, regardless of whether you’re forced closed or not.
“They’re responsible for a mortgage payment. They’re responsible for a lease payment. They’re responsible for other financial commitments…yet those responsibilities do not stop when they’re shut down,” he said.
“Almost every restaurant operator or owner out there believes there is COVID and is doing their best to ensure that they’re keeping up to the rules and the regulations laid out by AHS.
“But we have to be compassionate as well to these business owners because it is not as simple as just shut it down for some indefinite period of time.”