Sask. restaurants can no longer sell takeaway alcohol as COVID-19 restrictions lift

The Saskatchewan government is dropping all COVID-19 public health guidelines on Sunday, and restaurants lose the ability to make alcohol off-sales.

Dale MacKay, co-owner of the Grassroots Restaurant Group, said he wants to keep that ability, telling Global News it helped bring in some revenue during the pandemic and keep restaurants connected to customers.

“I think any way that we can make more revenue… I would love for that to stay in place,” he said.

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The Grassroots Restaurant Group owns Ayden Kitchen and Bar, Sticks and Stones, Little Grouse on the Prairie in Saskatoon and Avenue Restaurant in Regina.

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Standing in the bar at Ayden, on Third Avenue in Saskatoon, he criticized what he called a “kneejerk” decision by the government, telling Global News it has financial implications for an industry that that was ravaged by the pandemic and lockdown.

“They’re not taking into account all these people, including ourselves, who have extra stock and (were) planning to continue that program… so it’s a little bit silly,” MacKay said.

Hospitality Saskatchewan CEO Jim Bence told Global News many restauranteurs were surprised with the sudden announcement, which gave them just a few days’ notice.

“The restauranteurs certainly would have liked more time, for sure,” he said, speaking to Global News over the phone.

“I believe that many anticipated that it would come to an end, but certainly would have appreciated maybe another week or so.”

He said owners told him the ability to sell alcohol for takeaway, which the government started allowing last March, didn’t have a huge impact on income but said it did help.

In a statement to Global News, a Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA) spokesperson said the government is aware the “temporary changes have been well-received.”

Mike Morris wrote that the government is currently reviewing whether the changes should be made permanent.

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“A decision is expected in the very near future,” the statement said.

Tyler Montgomery, a manager at The Canadian Brewhouse in Saskatoon’s northwestern Hampton Village neighbourhood, said off-sale alcohol was a boon during the pandemic and that it helped bring in new customers from the area.

But he also said the restaurant likely won’t miss it because he’s expecting business to return to normal after Sunday’s reopening.

“It was a good opportunity for sales for us but I think with the restrictions being lifted, we’ll have a lot more opportunities,” he told Global News.

But MacKay wasn’t as optimistic.

He said he doesn’t expect the restaurants to fill up right away, or any time soon. He said customers have trickled in over the past few weeks, since the province entered the second reopening phase, and he expects that pattern to hold.

He said he’d like to keep making alcohol off-sales while his clientele returns, and to keep doing so well past that.

“Hopefully, life is going to get back to normal, but it’s not just going to get back to normal tomorrow,” he said.