As the COVID-19 pandemic continues outside, Ryan Grills says he's trying to make this St. Patrick's Day as normal as possible in his establishments.
Grills is the co-owner of two pubs in Saskatoon — the Yard and Flagon and the Rook and Raven. As usual, his kitchen is cooking Irish stew and he's got drink specials on the board.
However, the normally packed bar is a thing of the past this year. The pub will only have eight tables inside, and, if the weather co-operates, eight tables on a rooftop patio.
"St. Paddy's Day is always super social. Lots of churning, lots of visiting," he said.
"And this year, obviously, a lot of that is not really allowed."
Current rules for restaurants and licensed establishments in the province say seating has to be arranged to ensure at least two metres of physical distancing between tables if there are physical barriers in place, or three metres without barriers. As well, only four people are allowed to sit at each table.
Alcohol cannot be served later than 10 p.m. under the provincial regulations, and bars must be closed by 11 p.m.
As a result of those restrictions, Grills is planning for lineups that may start outside the pub Wednesday afternoon. He's hired a greeter to stand outside and manage any crowds that might form.
However, Grills said he's fine with following the rules.
"It's a pretty tight ship with the rules, and I think that, right now, those are all in place for good reasons," he said.
"We're going to do everything that we can to keep the people that are in the building as safe as possible."
In Regina, O'Hanlon's Irish Pub is doing the same.
Despite paring down its seating capacity to 78 from 307, Andrew Shanks, the pub's general manager, said he's bringing in a full staff.
"We're just being cautious in the sense that we want to make sure everybody's following the rules that you have to abide by and everybody's safe," he said.
Province, SHA urge vigilance
The Saskatchewan Health Authority also issued a reminder to residents — especially in Regina — to "be vigilant" during this year's St. Patrick's Day festivities.
"Get tested if you have symptoms and get immunized when eligible, especially now as … [coronavirus] variants of concern continue to appear in areas across our province," the health authority wrote in a news release Wednesday afternoon.
The province also made a special note Wednesday to those in the Regina area, which is currently the provincial hot spot for COVID-19 cases, to take extra precautions.
"It is highly recommended indoor gatherings continue to be with immediate households only at this time, and opt for takeout and curbside pickup," the province said in a news release, adding that if people do go out, they should stick to a single venue.
While the rising COVID-19 numbers in Regina aren't enough to keep Clinton Grand and Shannon Carton at home, the climbing cases are reminding them to be careful as they grab a pint.
"Being Irish, we've got to celebrate our heritage, and enjoy being with our family and friends — whether or not we're in a pandemic," Carton said, noting she plans on getting a COVID-19 test later this week as a safeguard.
"As long as you keep your distance, wash your hands and stay vigilant, I think everything is going to be OK," Grand added.
Happy to open
Jim Bence, president of the industry association Hospitality Saskatchewan, said bar owners have no problems following the province's rules if it means they can be open for what is traditionally one of the busiest days of the year.
"Operators just really appreciate the fact that they're open at all," said Bence.
"And I think that's where there's some hopefulness that ... they can have as good a day that they did for the Super Bowl."
Bence said bar and restaurant owners have been hit hard by the pandemic. While restrictions make it challenging to stay open, he said any traffic is welcome.
"[Restrictions] really reduced business levels to about 30 per cent of what they typically could do on a really full open day with full seating," he said.
"Having said that, they are open. So that's been very well received."