The Quebec government is scaling back public health restrictions on bars and restaurants starting Nov. 1, allowing them to reach full capacity and halving the two-metre distance rule.
"The vaccination passport allows such flexibility in cases where the risk of transmission is higher," said a statement issued Thursday by the office of Health Minister Christian Dubé.
"In other cases, minimum distancing and basic preventive measures remain essential. We are moving cautiously toward a return to normality, but caution is in order. "
Normal operating hours will also be allowed, meaning bars can once again stay open until 3 a.m., the statement said.
However, there will still be a cap on the number of people allowed at one table — 10 people from three different households.
If the distance of one metre cannot be achieved between tables, a barrier must be in place.
Wearing masks will continue to be required when moving around the establishment.
The ban on dancing, standing and singing will remain in effect, and the vaccination passport will still be required.
Regardless, François Michaud, co-owner of the restaurant Le Graffiti in Quebec City, was breathing a sigh of relief Thursday.
"For us, any easing of measures is a breath of fresh air," he said. "We need it. We can't wait for it to end."
Still, the industry faces a tough future after a rocky 18 months of on-and-off public health measures and closures as the provincial government worked to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Now the rent subsidies are going to end and tourism has not fully restarted, Michaud said, and now his restaurant is looking at shortfall of 30 to 40 per cent.
"While the rent will remain the same, the cost of raw material has increased," he said. "The cost of labour has increased in the last six months by at least 30 per cent in the kitchen."
The restrictions on capacity and seating have been an issue of contention across the province, according to the Nouvelle Association des Bars du Québec (NABQ), which has been asking the government to be consistent.
Last week, NABQ president Pierre Thibault said in a statement that it makes little sense to allow 22,000 people to sit side-by-side in the Bell Centre, with "10 centimetres of distance between them."
"We should also allow restaurants and bars to accommodate the permitted capacity of their establishments and to close at 3 a.m.," he said.
Bars have been limited to 50 per cent of the maximum capacity provided for in their liquor licence.
Bars and restaurants are currently allowed to serve alcohol until 1 a.m. and bars must close by 2 a.m. under the current rules.
Now that restrictions are easing up, Thibault said on Thursday, his group is optimistic.
"It is clear that the workforce is an issue, but I have the impression that things will be better under these conditions," he told Radio-Canada.
"We had difficulty keeping the employees because it was short term, and we couldn't work full-time schedules."