Valentine’s Day: restaurants hope that diners will be seduced by the occasion

HALIFAX-

It’s one of the few celebrations that draws people to restaurants in the dead of winter.

Still, some restaurants are bracing for another lackluster Valentine’s Day amid ongoing physical distancing rules, capacity restrictions and uncertainty.

“It’s not going to be a good night,” says Bill Pratt, a veteran chef and CEO of Chef Inspired Group of Restaurants, which operates several full-service and quick-service restaurants and food trucks in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Braunschweig.

“Sales drop dramatically in winter, so we need Valentine’s Day to help us. But it will be even worse than a normal night because everyone is in pairs.”

Since most diners are couples rather than larger groups and physical distancing applies to distance between tables, Pratt says, the math gets complicated pretty quickly.

His Studio East restaurant in Halifax, for example, can currently seat around 80 to 100 customers under existing COVID-19 restrictions.

But on Feb. 14, even though capacity limits in Nova Scotia will drop from 50% to 75%, Pratt said the Asian Gastropub had cut reservations to 42 people.

“Reservations are all for couples – not groups of friends or families – and we must always maintain six feet between tables,” he said. “I can’t do anything with my tables of four and six, I can’t move them, I’m stuck.”

Pratt added: “We’re going to follow all the rules. But we had such a horrible year last year, we just need to get back to some kind of normality.”

Thousands of restaurants have permanently closed during the pandemic.

Others have survived on a mix of grants, debt and the courage to deal with runaway inflation, labor shortages and perpetual uncertainty.

Special occasions like Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day usually help restaurants survive the slower winter months – and are especially crucial now after a tough holiday period, experts say.

“Most restaurants in Canada received a significant number of cancellations in December because of Omicron,” said Mark von Schellwitz, vice president of Western Canada at Restaurants Canada, in an interview.

“It makes occasions like Valentine’s Day this year even more important.”

Yet while restaurant dining rooms are open across the country, most continue to face restrictions ranging from capacity limits and physical distancing to vaccine passports.

There is still help available for the beleaguered industry.

Restaurants that have lost 25% of their revenue in the last month, compared to 2019, can receive wage and rental subsidies from the federal government – ​​if they are in an area where a public health order has locked them in or cut their operations in half.

If they are not in one of these areas, they are still eligible for grants under the Federal Government’s Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program. Among other requirements, restaurants must have lost 40% of their normal income.

But restaurants still have to pay 100% of other costs, including insurance, utilities and garbage collection.

Plus, food and shipping costs are skyrocketing – another major expense for restaurants.

“Ground beef that I paid $8 a kilo for last year, I now pay $10 a kilo more,” Pratt said. “That’s a 25% increase, boom, just like that.”

Despite crushing inflation and ongoing restrictions, many restaurateurs are growing optimistic.

New COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations are slowly declining in Canada and many provinces have announced the gradual lifting of restrictions, ranging from easing capacity limits to removing vaccine proof rules.

Alberta ended its vaccine passport system this week, while Saskatchewan will follow suit on Valentine’s Day.

For some restaurateurs, the lifting of restrictions offers a glimmer of hope that a return to more typical business operations is coming soon.

“It was about time,” said Leslie Echino, owner and operator of Annabelle’s kitchen, which has two locations in Calgary.

“Everyone I’ve spoken to is beyond excited to get people back where they belong. Very few people have any apprehensions.”

She added that while provincial rules limit groups to 10 or fewer people per table and prevent mixing between tables, there are no longer capacity restrictions at restaurants.

“My neighborhood restaurant is absolutely jam-packed — jam-packed,” Echino said. “People are really excited to come out.”

The reopening buzz is echoing in other provinces that have eased restrictions on restaurants — among the hardest-hit businesses during the pandemic.

“Restaurant owners are looking forward to Valentine’s Day,” said Martin Vézina, spokesperson for the Association des restaurateurs du Québec.

“It would be better if we didn’t have the capacity limits at all, but it should still be a good night.”

Going forward, Vézina said Quebec restaurants cannot tolerate another dining room closure.

“We have to think outside the box because we can’t expect restaurants to close again,” he said. “We need to give our workers some stability.”


This report from The Canadian Press was first published on February 12, 2022.

About Mohammed B. Hale

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