Restaurants scrambling to shift gears on short red-zone notice

·3 min read
Harriet Clunie, executive chef at Das Lokal, says even notice of a few days that the City of Ottawa would be moving to the red zone would have helped with planning.  (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press - image credit)
Harriet Clunie, executive chef at Das Lokal, says even notice of a few days that the City of Ottawa would be moving to the red zone would have helped with planning. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press - image credit)

Restaurant operators in Ottawa say the province should have given them more time to prepare for new restrictions announced Thursday that come into effect first thing Friday, when the city goes into the red zone in the pandemic framework.

The Ontario government said early Thursday morning that Ottawa would move into the red zone, from orange, on Friday, at 12:01 a.m. ET. Under red, restaurants can only serve 10 people inside.

Red brings some of the strictest restrictions detailed on the province's pandemic scale, second only to grey lockdown.

"What we feel is that if we could be notified a little bit earlier in the week, like a Tuesday or a Wednesday, or even a Monday, if we're shifting zones so that we have time to prepare," said Harriet Clunie, executive chef of Das Lokal

"What we've found with the whole pandemic is that all the changes have come down for the weekend, and that's been a harder shift because we've purchased all of our goods and now we have to figure out what to do with them."

Scrambling for seating

Other restaurant operators say they'll have to switch seating quickly to meet requirements under the new indoor restrictions.

"We have a small patio space on our private property, so we're scrambling now at this point to get that open so that we don't have to cancel the reservations we had previously reserved for the weekend," said Antonella Ceglia, general manager of La Roma.

Antonella Ceglia, whose family owns La Roma, says the restaurant can't function with only 10 people allowed in the dining room under red-zone rules.
Antonella Ceglia, whose family owns La Roma, says the restaurant can't function with only 10 people allowed in the dining room under red-zone rules. (Brian Morris/CBC)

"Obviously we can't operate a business with 10 people inside the restaurant; it's just not sustainable."

Mark Kaluski, chair of the Ottawa Coalition of Business Improvement Areas, is hearing stories of food waste, and said the move to red is just another blow to restaurants. He is watching the COVID data carefully with the hope Ottawa doesn't go past the red zone and into another lockdown.

"I think many restaurants were hoping that, you know, they finally made it through the really rough patch, which is the cold days of the winter, and we're looking forward to this spring, and again it's another hit to them," he said.

"Anecdotally, the number of people I've spoken to have said I just can't do another lockdown and I'm just going to pull the plug when it happens."

OPH says early intervention works

In a media call Thursday afternoon, Dr. Vera Etches, the City of Ottawa's medical officer of health, said consultations with the province included talk about giving businesses a couple of days' notice before instituting red-zone restrictions, but rising case numbers are a concern.

"We know the earlier we act, the better we can get things back under control," she said.

"This obviously is very hard for restaurants and bars when the food's been ordered and staff are scheduled. I know there's work underway to look at how that food can be purchased back from restaurants and bars."

In a tweet Friday, Mayor Jim Watson announced that patios would be able to open early under last year's rules.

But some restaurants say that won't make much of a difference for this weekend, as they would have needed more notice to get their full patios up and running.