Three Ottawa restaurateurs say they're taking every precautionary measure they can to help customers feel comfortable to return to dining inside, something the businesses rely on to turn a profit.
Even as dine-in service has been allowed under Stage 3 of the province's reopening, not everyone has been eager to flock back to indoor socializing and there are worries about potential outbreaks. Over the weekend, a Gatineau, Que., restaurant announced five of its employees had tested positive for COVID-19.
"The past few months have been a wild ride to say the least," said Caroline Cote who owns two locations of OCCO Kitchen, one in Orléans and another on Bay Street in the city's downtown, which has been hit especially hard by the pandemic.
"Our business downtown really relies on the private and public sector employees around," she told CBC Radio's All In A Day. Tourists also make up a significant portion of her business.
"With both of those being pretty much non-existent at the moment, it's been tough."
The Bay Street location has seen about a quarter of its normal traffic, she said.
"For a downtown business that relies so much on that market, the fate of the restaurant is really going to depend on these people returning to work and travel resuming."
She said staff at both her restaurants have taken a number of precautions and some customers have even begun to return inside.
Sunil Kurich has also seen some customers venture inside his restaurant, The Turkish Village, even after losing about 70 per cent of clientele at the start of the pandemic.
"About 15 per cent of the customers are starting to feel comfortable coming back," he said.
Dave Longbottom, who owns Flora Hall Brewing, acknowledges everyone has their own tolerance with risk.
"We don't judge, we're just trying to demonstrate to our customers that we're providing a very, very safe environment," he said.
"I think that it's only natural that if people have been working at home and spending a lot of time at home that it's going to take a little bit of time for them to get that comfort level up."
He expects contact tracing will also help contain any potential outbreaks that may be linked back to restaurants and bars and keep customers feeling safe to eat in.
"Nobody in Ottawa wants to see a hollowing out of this wonderful city and that's exactly what we'll see if people don't come out."
For now, Longbottom, said he's closely following Ottawa Public Health's guidelines for restaurants and hoping customers begin to feel more comfortable with the new normal.