New Brunswick restaurant owners prepare for slow season during COVID-19

·4 min read

Restaurant owners, already struggling with reduced seating, reduced staff and fewer customers due to the pandemic, are now hoping they can survive the slower winter months.

In Moncton, Old Triangle Ale House general manager Todd VanIderstine said the downtown restaurant will depend largely on delivery and take out to get through to spring.

Without large tournaments, sporting events and concerts at the Avenir Centre, people visiting the city and having fewer people back to work in the downtown core, he says the loss will be huge.

"So all of these things together have definitely taken a toll on what we're expecting to see this winter. And we're truthfully just hoping that we can scrape by until next summer,"

In downtown Fredericton, restaurant owners hope people will get in the habit of being out and about again.

"We just need more people to come downtown. Downtown right now, it's like pretty much a ghost town," said Ken Roberts, owner of Palate.

He said restaurants are following all the guidelines and says customers have to trust that they can come in for a meal and be safe.

Rising costs an issue

Roberts said everyone is fighting to get more customers into their restaurants but it's not the only thing they have to worry about.

"My biggest problem now is rising costs, wages, food costs is going through the roof and, you know, we're fighting for margins that are hard to get in the first place."

For Jenny Wilson, co-owner of 11th Mile, having customers make reservations is helping to maximize the number of customers they can accommodate with fewer tables.

"We've got about 20 seats inside, which is tight to make it work, but people are being really accommodating, coming to dinner maybe earlier than they normally would or later than they normally would."

While she knows local support is what will keep restaurants open, Wilson wonders how much more they can expect.

"I feel that we're asking a lot of the public to continue to come in on a reservation–only basis to, you know, agree to, for instance, a two hour reservation and then respect that."

Shutterstock/Harry Wedzinga
Shutterstock/Harry Wedzinga

Shawna Foster, the co-owner of Moco Downtown says she also wonders about continued support.

"We're just struggling with not having as many tables to accommodate the number of guests. So that's kind of been our trouble is having to say no to a lot of people coming in and just trying to make it work with the minimalist seats that we do have."

VanIderstine said it's tough to draw people to the downtown core in Moncton but he's hoping an emphasis on takeout menu and creating items better suited to travel and delivery might be able to make up some revenue.

VanIderstine said social distancing and bubbles have definitely altered the restaurant's ability to promote it as a homey, comfortable place to be and meet people.

"Right now we're very dependent upon the community and local individuals and supporting their small businesses," VanIderstine said.

In Fredericton, Roberts said his restaurant has a loyal lunch following and they've developed theme nights that have helped keep the restaurant busy.

Staying optimistic

Wilson said at her restaurant they've decided to stay optimistic and deal with things as they happen.

"Things haven't gone as badly as we've feared since the beginning of COVID, since we came back to work, so our attitude is why not assume that we will all keep figuring this out."

Wilson said what matters is the public's perception when, or if, COVID cases increase like they did in the Moncton and Campbellton regions.

"It comes down to how the public is feeling and how comfortable they are and if we can maintain our procedures and guidelines and doing all that right."

All four restaurant owners say Christmas and New Year gatherings won't be happening the way they did. Many are only accepting bookings of six to eight people and some have turned bookings down because of the group's size.

Luc Erjavec, vice president Atlantic Canada for Restaurants Canada said some restaurants may not survive the winter months.

"A lot will depend on continued support from governments of all levels. You know, just because we are open does not mean we're back to normal."

Erjavec said restaurants are innovative but can only do so much.

"We're optimistic that industry can pivot and that they will survive through the winter and hopefully get ready for a spring. that's a lot better than the last one."