Restaurants brace for new round of restrictions

At Big Rig Kitchen and Brewery in Gloucester Tuesday, many customers said they came in for what will be their last indoor dining experience for a while.

“This was our last chance to actually have a work meeting where we could actually come out to dine so we’re taking advantage of the last day,” said Kevin Chevrier.

Starting Wednesday, indoor dining is closed for at least three weeks as Omicron surges across Ontario.

“Every time that we get a mandate to implement and everything, we go along with it, we do it, we implement it and try to survive as much as everyone else,” said Patrick McCann, Big Rig’s front of house manager.

“These new rounds of restrictions coming in really just feels like you’re getting kicked when you’re down,” said Wolf Down owner Joelle Parenteau.

She has written articles about COVID-19’s devastating impact on the industry from supply shortages to staffing that have been widely shared.

“We’re doing everything in our power just to keep the doors open and to keep some food out there, but just operating basic operations is 10 times harder than it ever was before or than it should be, just because of all of these different issues that we’re facing. It’s all just trickle-down collateral damage because of COVID,” she said.

Among the other new restrictions: indoor sport and recreational facilities will be shut down. So will indoor concert venues, theatres, cinemas, meeting spaces, museums and zoos.

Indoor social gatherings will also be reduced to five people, indoor religious gatherings, weddings and funerals will be restricted to 50 per cent. Personal care services, retail settings and public libraries will also be cut down to 50 per cent.

“We already, at CFIB, were predicting that 180,000 businesses, small firms across Canada, would close their doors forever as a result of the damage they’ve sustained through the last two years. I suspect that could be a larger number at this stage. That’s one in six small firms disappearing permanently,” said Dan Kelly, President and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

In Ontario, certain businesses ordered to close will be reimbursed for 100 per cent of property tax and energy costs. Those reduced to 50 per cent capacity will receive a rebate payment for half those expenses. Online applications will open in mid-January, and payments will be retroactive to Dec. 19.

“Obviously anything will help but it doesn’t help address the mounting debt that has been accumulated since March 2020,” said Michelle Groulx, the executive director of the Ottawa Coalition of Business Improvement areas. “And so we’re looking for support and forgiveness of mounds of debts that are impacting livelihoods here.”

The federal government has temporarily expanded the Local Lockdown Program and more Canadians are eligible for the $300 per week Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit if in a region with capacity restrictions and who have lost 50 per cent or more of their income.

“This is not just a business that’s being impacted, these are livelihoods. There are many people who work for the businesses who are being impacted and restricted at this moment in time who are facing layoffs and reduced shifts and their income so just for everyone to be kind and to support anyone as much as they can,” said Groulx.