COVID surge has left bars, restaurants with tough choice around New Year's Eve

·3 min read
Renee Lavallee and Doug Townsend work in their empty restaurant prepping takeout orders.  (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
Renee Lavallee and Doug Townsend work in their empty restaurant prepping takeout orders. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

Just a few weeks ago, Nova Scotians prepared for a New Year's Eve that was expected to look closer to normal.

Parties, concerts and dinners were carefully planned. Things were looking up.

"The past two years things have been very fluid,"said Doug Townsend, co-owner of The Canteen on Portland, a restaurant in Dartmouth. "But we thought we were going to get past this at this point and were going to have a happy New Year's celebration to ring in 2022."

Then came a spike in COVID cases. Frequent exposures in Halifax have forced restaurants and bars to decide if they should modify their plans, or close down completely.

New public health regulations have been introduced, but bars and restaurants aren't required to close. Many establishments have had to make their own decision.

"I think we're at this phase now with COVID where [the government] is trying to find ways to allow businesses to kind of make their own decisions that feel right [for] their own business," Townsend said.

Restaurants and bars can once again only operate at 50 per cent capacity, must have at least two metres between tables and be closed by midnight, along with other stipulations.

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

Townsend and his wife and co-owner, Renee Lavallee, decided to cancel their fully booked New Year's Eve dinner service and move to takeout. They concluded the risk wasn't worth the reward.

"For us, it was first and foremost, our staff and the customers," Lavallee said.

They factored in how the customers would feel about their safety and if there would be sufficient staff "because if you're even exposed, you can't come to work."

Though a number of establishments in HRM have decided to close for the time being, others have decided to adapt.

"People want a place to go, people want a place to celebrate, so we're happy to do that and be open for them," said Anisa Francoeur, marketing manager of Dear Friend Bar in Dartmouth. "We know that we're being safe and it's a great opportunity for people to come out and enjoy the night."

The bar is taking a dual approach. It's offering takeout cocktails for people to enjoy at home, and also keeping in-person service with reduced capacity.

Brian MacKay/CBC
Brian MacKay/CBC

Francoeur said all 12 staff members were consulted about the decision.

"Some of the staff, their livelihood depends on this job ... and our staff are struggling already," she said. "So we need to stay open for them and we're doing it safely and we're doing it following regulations."

HRM changes plans

Though many restaurants and bars have chosen to stay open, people who do go out to celebrate won't have as many options as previous years.

The live shows planned by HRM have also had to be changed on short notice since gatherings of more than 25 people are now forbidden.

"We had an entire stage production created, an event site and event planned, completely done," said Billy Comer, a civic events co-ordinator for HRM. "And so we then needed to scramble, find a new venue, find a couple of new artists, actually add some elements to it and work into a virtual world."

Comer said despite a scramble, the city is now putting on two virtual shows, which will be live streamed on their YouTube channel tomorrow night for those who choose to stay home to celebrate.

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