The president and CEO of Guelph-based Neighbourhood Group of Companies says there needs to be a change after restaurants were left off of the list of venues that are allowed to lift capacity limits.
Court Desautels said it doesn’t make sense that movie theatres, concert halls and arenas can now pack people in with 100 per cent capacity, but restaurants must still maintain six feet between tables.
“I’m a big sports fan so I am happy for the arenas. That’s great,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.
“But once again restaurants are left out in the dark and we’re the ones that have struggled through this whole thing. You just have to think how many small independents are struggling to survive and yet you can watch people in a stadium.”
Desautels’ company is behind some of the most popular restaurants and bars in Guelph — Miijidaa Cafe and Bistro, Borealis Grille and Bar and The Wooly Pub, along with Park Grocery.
He said the way the announcement was made by the Ontario government isn’t surprising.
“I think it was 4:45 p.m. on the Friday of a long weekend,” he said in a phone interview. “So they didn’t have to deal with the fallout from it.”
That fallout now involves loud calls to the Doug Ford Government to expand capacity on places likes restaurants, bars and gyms.
“A place like Scotiabank Arena, they’re going to be allowed full capacity. That’s 19,800 people without physical distancing rules. Meanwhile, gyms, yoga and dance studios, and bowling alleys are limited to 50 per cent capacity,” said Julie Kwiecinski of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
“Restaurants and meeting and event spaces will still have to follow physical distancing rules.”
She said it comes down to fairness and her organization is demanding that the government level the playing field for all venues that participate in the province’s vaccine mandate program.
Kwiecinski also added that restaurants have faced this scenario before.
“This is a sequel to last year’s saga when the Ontario government picked Walmart and Costco over small businesses,” she said. “They permitted the big box stores to sell anything to everyone in-store while small retailers were limited to pickup and delivery.”
Desautels said having to keep six feet between tables means capacity is less than half in most of his restaurants and to make matters worse, they have been forced to close their temporary patio spaces by the City of Guelph with the colder weather approaching.
“We do have the opportunities to invest in plexiglass barriers. But that’s a big cost to invest,” he said. “The last time we did that at one of our restaurants, two weeks later we were shut down. So you eat those costs and you don’t know what decision the government is going to make.”
He said he has reached out to the mayor, the Guelph Chamber of Commerce and Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner.
“None of it seems to make sense to anybody,” Desautels said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
He also added that staffing is very hard these days with the whole restaurant industry getting hammered as laid-off employees look for more secure work in other industries.
Desautels said he can’t blame employees finding work elsewhere.
“When you’re forced to close or can’t have full capacity, you don’t have the same staffing levels and the rules change. People get fed up and they go find consistent work elsewhere,” he said.
“That’s what we’re dealing with right now. We have people who have been in this industry for years, if not decades, that have had to go find another work opportunity because the manufacturing sectors, for example, are not impacted whatsoever by these closures.”
Sitting on the board of Restaurants Canada, Desautels said he knows there have been talks with the Ontario government this week and hopes some good news is coming to restaurants this week.
“We need to see a change,” he said. “If not, you’re going to see much more vocal and upset business owners making their voices heard in any possible.”
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