The holiday season isn't quite in full swing for restaurants and event halls in Saskatchewan.
While the second pandemic December is busier for most businesses compared to last year, some say the holiday period is still painfully slower than normal.
John Costanzi, the food and beverage director for the Remai Modern art museum in Saskatoon, said visitor numbers have fallen.
"Normally, at this time of year, we'd be crammed all the time," said Costanzi, who owns and operates the venue's restaurant, Shift. "And frankly we just haven't seen it." Costanzi said.
Reservations for Shift are down between 35 to 45 per cent, compared with pre-pandemic holiday seasons, Costanzi said. The restaurants seats 70 at full capacity.
So far this month, he has catered for roughly 20 different group parties. Despite no restrictions on gathering sizes, he said groups are much smaller than normal, causing some to postpone or cancel their events.
"As numbers start to drop, then people look at it and go: 'This doesn't really make sense for us.' Because companies have budgets too," he said.
As someone who is looking at the numbers everyday, it's extremely difficult to keep that smile going - John Costanzi, Shift restaurant owner
In an effort to keep business and fill seats at Shift, Costanzi is offering smaller groups the option to "buy out" the entire restaurant for their event. Something he would never have done during the holidays, pre-pandemic.
"It's a form of keeping them in the building, if you will, and letting them use their deposit that was already paid," he said.
Omicron, other challenges ahead
On Wednesday, the Government of Saskatchewan reported a total of 96 Omicron cases — 27 confirmed and 69 probable. In total, there are about 627 active cases of COVID-19 and about 91 of those people are currently in the hospital.
While there have been some reservation cancellations at Shift this season, none have been directly linked to the rapid spread of the COVID-19 variant Omicron, Costanzi said.
He noted, however, other events in 2021 are compounding the strain of a slower holiday season.
"All costs have skyrocketed with food," he said. "The floods in B.C. really affected us in terms of getting product. I'm still waiting on five cases of wine…"
"As someone who is looking at the numbers everyday, it's extremely difficult to keep that smile going and make sure everyone has that same quality of dining experience."
WATCH | Plans are changing as Omicron cases rise:
At the WA WA Shriners Reception Hall in Regina, event bookings are slowly returning — mostly for the new year.
"We're not back to 2019 numbers and we are definitely not back to the 2020 numbers," said event coordinator Mary Ann Couse.
"When we shut down in the middle of March 2020, I had bookings right through until September."
The hall can host around 350 people with tables, more without. Couse said she is optimistic about the future, with the space nearly fully booked from May through September 2022.
Chelsea Galloway, the chief growth officer for Economic Development Regina, said the last two years have been challenging for local businesses.
However, she said, there is a renewed energy in the holiday season — which is a critical time for the economy.
"People are out at restaurants," Galloway said. "People are shopping local. They're trying to take in as much as they can, while still being safe and following rules and doing what they can to support our local economy."
While she couldn't provide specific numbers on holiday tourism, Galloway noted many people living in Regina have once again booked staycations at local hotels.
The growing spread of Omicron in Canada is an industry concern, however, Galloway reminded people there are still safe, distanced ways to support local business such as curbside pickup and delivery.
"It is just challenging, the uncertainty of it all," she said.
"We're all in this together and over the next few weeks things will definitely probably change a lot. So just stay safe and try and continue to enjoy the holiday season."