‘Easier not to open at all’: wave of restaurants and bars close for holidays as new restrictions take hold

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A series of temporary closures are creeping through Toronto’s food industry as restaurants and bars grapple with the rapid spread of Omicron checkouts and new limits on customer capacity.

Since the Ontario government announced new restrictions for small businesses on Friday, a slew of bars and restaurants across the province have chosen to temporarily close their doors for the coming weeks rather than operate at half capacity. and with early curfews.

The wave of closures includes Aloette, Alobar Yorkville, Donna’s, DaiLo, Honest Weight, Le Swan, Rhum Corner, Bar Vendetta, Greta Solomon’s, Fat Pasha, Fet Zun, Big Crow BBQ, Le Grand Elvis, Crews and Tangos, The Local, Three Speed, Civil Liberties, Greater Good Bar, Snackbar, Swan Dive, The Old Sod, Mahjong, Drom Taberna and more.

Even before the restrictions went into effect on Sunday, some companies reported declining customer demand due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. Now, out of prudence and to keep costs low – as the province has not announced any plans to renew subsidies – some have switched to take-out only while others have closed until these restrictions are lifted .

Donna’s, a family-run restaurant in Bloordale, will close for two weeks after Christmas. The restaurant recently closed the inside dining area and informed its staff of 15 that this week will be the last, until it can safely reopen.

A combination of public health concerns, financial stability and “pure burnout” entered the difficult but not surprisingly decision, restaurant co-owner Ann Kim said.

“We just needed a few weeks off,” Kim said.

Toronto restaurateur Jen Agg announced on Saturday that she would be closing bars Vendetta, Le Swan and Rhum Corner until December 27, citing the increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and overwhelmed staff.

“We want our staff to have one less thing (professional obligations) that weighs on their decisions to be with their family” Agg wrote on Twitter.

Agg said restaurants will continue to pay their employees despite the shutdown, “but without government support we clearly can’t continue to manage payroll beyond that, so hopefully it’s a short shutdown.”

Other businesses outside of the food industry have also announced temporary shutdowns. La Revue Cinema will close until Jan. 3 “at least,” the theater said on Instagram. The Comedy Bar, the Horseshoe Tavern and Lee’s Palace too.

The latest restrictions are forcing bars, restaurants and entertainment spaces to cut indoor capacity by 50% and shut down services by 11 p.m. The number of seats is limited to 10 people per table while alcohol sales will be restricted after 10 p.m. be prohibited, except for “workers or performers”.

The new restrictions, intended to limit the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases – which reached 3,783 new cases on Monday – put the brakes on business plans for bars and restaurants that expect higher income in the evenings New Year’s Eve.

Zac Schwartz, co-owner of Leslieville Lake Inez restaurant, has booked 120 reservations for New Years Eve. In the coming days, however, the pan-Asian gastropub will have to carry over dozens of earlier seat reservations to adjust to the new regulations. , he said.

“Instead of booking at 10pm, we ask people if they want a 4pm seat,” Schwartz said. “It sucks. I’m sure we’re going to lose a bunch of people in the process.

The vast majority of restaurants are operating at a loss or have barely broken down since the start of the pandemic, according to Restaurants Canada. Almost 80% of small restaurant businesses have consistently lost money since the first wave of lockdowns ended in 2020 or have taken a profit margin of around 2% or less.

The cycle of closures and massive layoffs has contributed, in part, to a substantial shortage of workers in the food industry. Recent data from Statistics Canada shows that jobs in food services and accommodation have been lacking by about 178,800 workers since the start of the pandemic, while sector wages have increased at a freezing pace.

For some eating places, it makes more sense to shut down temporarily than to operate under the province’s new restrictions, said James Rilett, vice president of Restaurants Canada.

“Just because you’re running at half capacity doesn’t mean you can necessarily cut your costs in half,” Rilett said. “It’s hard to get the staff together when you don’t know if you’ll be open or closed next week, so sometimes it’s easier not to open at all.”

Since Friday’s announcement, neither the province nor the federal government have announced new funding for businesses affected by the restrictions. Provincially, targeted support for small businesses ended months ago, while lending in Ottawa has been cut dramatically.

Lobby groups including Restaurants Canada and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce have called on the province and the federal government to reintroduce grants and expand loan cancellation programs.

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