Waterloo Region restaurateurs see ‘red’ with additional COVID-19 restrictions

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Late summer and fall saw Waterloo Region slide into the “orange zone” of provincial COVID-19 restrictions and as of Monday it will be in the “red zone.”This will mean more restrictions on how many people can eat in restaurants, how many people can be at a table, and when restaurants and bars must stop serving alcohol and close their doors.

In the space of just a week, at least two independent restaurants in the Waterloo region announced their closures due to the pandemic, and one outlet for a coffeehouse chain also closed. Will others follow soon?

Restaurant owners in small business centers express that they feel a combination of anxiety, anger and fear: some are convinced that their commercial “hubs” can support them; others are rightly concerned that their food operations must shut down.

Planning the red zone

Some have already foreseen the worst-case scenario: At MeMe’s Café Food Shop and Coffee House in New Hamburg, the business earlier shifted from take-out to take-out and selling specialty food products not available in local stores. grocery stores in the region.

MeMe’s Café owner Meredith Hagen has essentially removed her cafe seats and says the change gives her a chance to survive when meals are further reduced – or completely closed.

“I imagine we will continue as we are. At this point, we’re only allowing three people at a time and with all security protocols, ”says Hagen.

A few blocks away, Jake and Humphreys’ Bistro says they’re ready for the red and are in good financial shape. Co-owner and co-chef Janet Duncan says she doesn’t think the change will be too severe for the little bistro.

“We’re already easily in compliance, but red would mean we would have to call and adjust some existing reservations. We can accommodate 14 guests six feet apart, but we’ll have to go 10, ”Duncan says.

Shrinkage capacity

Also in New Hamburg, a small group of restaurants have a different set of concerns as they serve varied markets in their different styles of food operations.

Imperial Market and Eatery, with its robust and well-established take-out service, has moved into the new commercial environment and believes it has a good chance of surviving, according to Chef Jaret Flannigan, who adds that the other two The group’s sister restaurants are owners will feel the spur of new restrictions.

“The Imperial would be the least affected and could possibly survive, just because we have a strong take-out. However, both pubs in our group felt the restrictions, ”says Flannigan. “Obviously cutting alcohol sales at 9 p.m. hurts us too. ”

In Wellington County, baker Greg Dove says he thinks he can handle a larger shutdown due to Elora Bread Trading Company’s small size and being an essential service.

“We only allow one masked bubble at a time,” says Dove. “It’s made for longer queues outside and some people may not like it, but this is the world we live in now. “

Blurred lines

Size can seem to make the difference: a small venue, if it has the right balance in how it generates income, could handle other restrictions; a large room with more than 200 seats which is reduced to only 10 would have to make serious efforts to reorient its business plan.

Regardless of the size, for some restaurateurs, “the world we live in” is a world with fuzzy lines and mixed messages about the pandemic and business closures. Flannigan at Imperial agrees with the blurry lines that cause problems.

“There seem to be mixed messages coming from officials. They say home meals are safe with the protocols in place. Almost in the same sentence, they say stay home and only go out for essentials, ”says Flannigan.

He points out that people have larger gatherings inside their homes and probably don’t strictly enforce security protocols.

“They would be safer to come to the restaurant because we have controls, extreme hygiene measures and contact tracing. There’s an element here where the message gets mixed up, ”says Flannigan.

Add to all that uncertainty and concerns the holiday season ahead. Christmas sales, when many businesses and not just restaurants make a large portion of their annual income, could be seriously affected by new restrictions.

Without banquets, big parties and big expenses, things will quickly get worse, says Flannigan.

“For any businesses that rely on Christmas functions and big lunches and dinners, the restrictions could be absolutely crippling. I can’t even imagine.

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