Customers brave cold on first night of outdoor-only dining in Ottawa

Ontario’s return to Step 2 has many business owners feeling the weight of pandemic measures. Ottawa restaurant owners are trying to bring warmth to winter patios, including at Hunter’s Public House in Findlay Creek.

“We love these booths that have been put together for everyone to see each other and get together despite the restrictions,” said Chantal Labrosse, braving the cold Wednesday night to enjoy a pint on the first night of Ontario’s return to Step 2.

Under the latest restrictions, indoor dining, gyms, theatres are all closed until at least Jan. 26. Outdoor dining is still an option— something Charles MacInnis, the owner of Hunter’s Public House, decided to continue.

“We always aim to be the first one open and the last one closed,” MacInnis said. “We’ll keep it open all winter as long as I can shovel it off.”

COVID-19 screening is done upon arrival and the patio can fit up to 26 people. The heat lamps and fire pit provide a cottage-like feel which is a welcome reprieve for many of its regulars.

“I work from home for the most part so to be able to get out for a change of scenery it’s been fantastic,” said Chris Kennedy, who lives in near the restaurant.

“It seems to be the only thing that keeps people going right now, being able to connect with people outside their household,” said Roger Lalonde, also out for a pint and appetizers.

MacInnes said he’s found different ways to keep staff employed, offering curbside pickup and delivery.

“Our staff deliver everything so it saves on Skip the Dishes and Uber Eats, and my staff keep their jobs.

Other businesses are unconvinced outdoor options will be enough to supplement the losses.

“I think we’ll see some folks set up Winterlude patios for sure, but we really just have got to wait to see if that happens,” said Sarah Chown, managing partner at Metropolitain Brasserie.

The province says it’s working to create a grants program for small business owners, but hasn’t said who will qualify or when it will be available.

In the meantime patrons say they’ll continue to come out to the patio, with a little extra help from provided heat.

“I’m probably minus-five, minus 10,” said Labrosse. “You just have to wear any layers stay under the lights it really helps.”