Half-hearted holidays as capacity limits halved at local restaurants

·4 min read

Supporting local restaurants might help to save their bacon over the next while.

Restrictions on capacity limits in restaurants were put in place last week in the wake of the omicron variant of the airborne-transmissible coronavirus, a contagious strain that has slithered through second-dose herd immunity.

The cut in half for indoor dining, and a maximum of 10 people per table, has left many restaurant owners struggling as they head into the late December holiday season.

Romina Bravo, owner of the Mexican restaurant Zanca in Midland, remained hopeful as she explained how the capacity limit affected her business.

“If I have a full restaurant,” Bravo hypothesized, “I have to make sure I don’t have a lot of people at the tables or I’d have to be cutting some stations from the restaurant.”

North Simcoe is known for its tourism, and winter has allowed Bravo to adjust prior to the large scale numbers of warmer weather.

“It’s still low season, so it gives me a chance – it’s still not affecting me as much as other businesses, especially because I have barriers and staff.”

Phil Karpathios, owner of Phil’s Casual Dining in Penetanguishene and Phil’s Pub & Eatery in Midland, remarked that patrons unable to dine due to being unvaccinated were already hurting restaurants prior to the capacity limit announcement.

“It’s not that we’re losing 50% of our seating; we’re probably losing 75% of our turnover when you do the math,” said Karpathios. “So it’s really bad.”

Phil’s had gained popularity through community donations and charity dinners in previous years, but the pandemic halted that generosity.

“I wasn’t able to do the Christmas dinner that I do every year for two years now, because of capacity limits and creating a large group gathering outside my door.”

Rob Burry, manager at Marina’s Pizza & Sports Bar in Port McNicoll, believed that the majority of people understood the need for capacity limits and vaccination checks at the door.

“It has to be done, there are no ifs ands or buts. I’ve got a family, my staff have family; nobody wants to risk the health of their family just to serve a meal,” noted Burry who added that his staff check printed copies and QR codes of vaccination proof diligently.

Recently, a Barrie resident had admitted to using false identification as a social experiment to see how many establishments were taking the proof of vaccination seriously. A surprising number allowed the fake credentials.

“I feel that a lot of businesses are doing that,” said Karpathios, who affirmed that the Phil’s restaurants do check for proof of vaccinations. His speculation was weighed by the mishandling and inequity of imposed regulations.

“(As a patron), if you come to a restaurant you have to be vaxxed. Some of the staff that aren’t vaxxed in a restaurant can work in a restaurant – can put in ten hours, can sit in the dining room and have their lunch on their break – but they can’t come back as a customer and support the restaurant because they’re not vaxxed.

“There’s a lot of contradictions there,” he added. “Hypocrisy.”

Bravo shared frustration at other businesses not taking the pandemic seriously.

“They should be checking them (proof of vaccination) like we do. Check everybody, just to make sure we’re all safe,” said Bravo.

In addition to the capacity limit reductions for restaurants, the province also announced that food and drink would no longer be allowed within cinemas, arenas, or other large venues.

Bravo wasn’t sure that Zanca would catch that overflow of people heading out, but was optimistic.

“People will probably start to go out (to dinner) before going to an entertainment activity,” she added.

Burry laughed while mentioning that Midland doesn’t have a lot of large concerts, and that he wasn’t too concerned by that facet of the announcement.

Karpathios expressed frustration at the handling of the pandemic by the government, who allowed certain businesses to remain open without regulation while others only had regulations tightened.

“We can’t get staff to come into work before nine o’clock, so now we’ve shortened our hours on both ends,” said Karpathios, “because a lot of the staff have kids.

“How do you run a bar when you close at ten and eleven? How do you celebrate New Years’ Eve? How do you celebrate anything?”

There wasn’t a lot of hope in Karpathios’ voice after speaking about the past and present for the local restaurant industry.

“We’ll close the book on 2021 in a few days, and we’re going to pray that next year there’s a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel… and it’s not a Mack Truck.”

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca

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