Some P.E.I. restaurants may not survive 2nd COVID-19 summer, group warns

·3 min read
Carl Nicholson, president of the P.E.I. Restaurant Association and general manager of New Glasgow Lobster Suppers, said restaurants need government programs to survive the COVID-19 pandemic.  (Jessica Doria Brown/CBC - image credit)
Carl Nicholson, president of the P.E.I. Restaurant Association and general manager of New Glasgow Lobster Suppers, said restaurants need government programs to survive the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jessica Doria Brown/CBC - image credit)

Restaurants in P.E.I. must deal with another summer of COVID-19 restrictions — and some businesses may not make it through the season, according to an industry group.

Carl Nicholson, president of the P.E.I. Restaurant Association and general manager of New Glasgow Lobster Suppers, said there are several challenges restaurants face as long as P.E.I.'s borders are still restricted to travellers.

"Most [restaurants] were able to kind of get through one season but once you lose a second summer season — and if you don't have the opening of two other provinces — then there's too much product now for the amount of people," said Nicholson.

"The challenge is 'Are you going to be able to survive?' Because the banks aren't doing anything to support the restaurant sector."

Step one of the province's reopening plan for the summer and fall of 2021 began this past Sunday. Restaurants are now allowed to seat up to 20 people at one table and there's no restricted closing time for in-person dining.

Nicholson said these changes won't have a large impact on restaurants as most businesses don't seat 20 people at one table anyway.

Restrictions and challenges

According to current government regulations, restaurants can apply to seat a maximum of three cohorts of 50 people each. Following these rules may be difficult, though.

"You have to be able to manage those groups of 50 and [make] sure that those groups can't mix," said Nicholson. "That's where you have the contact-tracing dilemma."

When all of a sudden it's safe for the world to get back to normal, what's going to be left for people to come and experience? - Carl Nicholson, P.E.I. Restaurant Association

Nicholson said restaurants are also dealing with staffing issues.

"A lot of staff have moved on to other industries. You know, we could hire a lot of youth that are looking for jobs but certainly we're needing some experienced staff as well."

Ultimately, Nicholson said restaurants need government programs and supports to help get through a second slow summer.

"If there's not programs in place, our industry could look pretty dire for next year."

Back to normal?

Nicholson said it's difficult for businesses in the tourism industry to decide whether to open for the season and for how long. If many local businesses shut down this summer, he said this might lead to negative effects for next year's tourists.

"When all of a sudden it's safe for the world to get back to normal, what's going to be left for people to come and experience?" Nicholson said.

Several steps in the province's reopening plan depend on vaccination rates. Nicholson said it would be helpful if the government could provide a "blueprint as far as when we could realistically reach those benchmarks in order to be able to open up."

The Prince Edward Island government currently has an estimated timeline for each step of its reopening plan, which is available on its website.

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