COVID-19 uncertainty drives some P.E.I. restaurants to close voluntarily

·4 min read
Family & Friends Restaurant owner Charlene Gill (right) stands with staff Lezlie Murphy (centre) and Nirelle Kluhspies (left) in the empty dining room. The restaurant has moved to takeout and pub-side seating only as cases climb in the province. (Nicola MacLeod/CBC - image credit)
Family & Friends Restaurant owner Charlene Gill (right) stands with staff Lezlie Murphy (centre) and Nirelle Kluhspies (left) in the empty dining room. The restaurant has moved to takeout and pub-side seating only as cases climb in the province. (Nicola MacLeod/CBC - image credit)

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the province, some Island restaurant owners are making the decision to close their doors or limit their offerings.

Under the province's current COVID-19 restrictions, restaurants may operate at 50 per cent capacity with at least two metres between each table. Each table may seat no more than 10 people. Alcohol and food cannot be served after 11 p.m. and bars and restaurants must close by midnight.

And though restaurants could remain open under those rules, some owners are choosing not to.

"When all those cases come out there, I just had no choice. And then everybody went in panic mode, which is quite understandable, so we just made the decision just to go to takeout and the pub side only," said Charlene Gill, owner of Family and Friends in Kensington.

"Everybody's scared."

Waiting on direction

Gill made the call to close her dining room on Monday evening, but said the decision was difficult because of the hardship it imposes on her staff.

"They're down to less than 20 hours a week. They can't live on that," she said.

"That's the big thing, do you lay them off? At least they get their unemployment because who can live on that? They can't. They have families."

Nicola MacLeod/CBC
Nicola MacLeod/CBC

Gill said she's planning to keep her restaurant closed until more information is available from the Chief Public Health Office.

"Until we hear the update from Dr. (Heather) Morrison … then I will sit with the staff and just see where they're at with this and we'll make a decision from there," she said.

The CPHO has sent out releases with case numbers and testing and booster clinic information over the past week, but there has not been a public health briefing since Dec. 21.

We would like to have some direction from the government, but there hasn't been any. So this is what we've done. — Mike Perry, The Breakfast Spot.

Information – with guidance from the government – is what Mike Perry, owner of The Breakfast Spot in Summerside, is also waiting for.

"There's been no communication," said Perry, who has also closed his restaurant until further notice.

"We're kind of just out there. That's why we've made this decision. We would like to have some direction from the government, but there hasn't been any. So this is what we've done."

'We're going to lose restaurants'

P.E.I. Restaurant Association president Carl Nicholson said this latest wave is coming at a difficult time of year for businesses.

Nicola MacLeod/CBC
Nicola MacLeod/CBC

"There is those ebbs and tides that happen with every business, but it's challenging, you know, in our business where there is such a low profit margin that you really can't sustain major hits, especially one that's affected you for a period of two years," he said.

"We're stretched to the max right now."

Nicholson said many restaurants were getting by, but the rise of the omicron variant, which led to the cancellation of Christmas gatherings, was a setback.

"Boxing Day and our levees were busy, busy, busy. We were packed," said Gill. "That's a big hit for us and and same as all the other restaurants and bars."

Nicholson said restrictions have worked on P.E.I., so it's hard to argue with them.

"It's just tough on this industry and it's going to be tough on this industry I would say for the next year," he said.

Nicholson said he believes the landscape will look very different by the summer.

"We're going to lose restaurants, there's just no question," Nicholson said.

Perry agreed.

"It's just not enough," Perry said. "It's barely enough for us, which is scary because, you know, people rely on us for their livelihood, and we've had to close.

"We're going to help out our people where we can, we did the last time and we'll do it again, but there's only so much that we can do because we're running out of dough."

Nicola MacLeod/CBC
Nicola MacLeod/CBC

In the meantime, Perry said he's considering opening for takeout or delivery later this week, depending on what he learns.

"We just need to hear more from the government at this point as to what direction they're going in, what's happening with this variant," he said.

"Whether it's good or bad, whatever. Just let us know and then people will have the confidence to come back out."

The Chief Public Health Office is expected to provide a COVID-19 briefing on Thursday.

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