B.C. restaurants can open Tuesday if they meet criteria for distancing, sanitizing

Victoria’s restaurant owners, hoping for a small taste of normalcy next week as the province plans to phase-in its economic restart plan, now have definitive guidelines for reopening their businesses.

On Friday, WorkSafe B.C. posted industry-specific guidance and resources for employers intending to resume operations next week.

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“Every employer is required to have a COVID-19 safety plan that assesses the risk of exposure at their worksite and implements measures to keep their workers safe,” said Al Johnson, head of prevention services at WorkSafe B.C.

Both general and industry-specific materials were developed in consultation with industry and labour representatives to ensure they are practical and understandable for workplaces in each sector, he said.

The guidelines for restaurants include allowing groups of between two and six people, with each group seated at least six feet apart. Booths will have to have barriers installed between them, room occupancy will be determined by how many tables of six an operator can fit into its space while adhering to physical-distancing protocols, and each facility will have to create and post a COVID-19 safety plan.

The guidelines come on the eve of enacting the province’s economic restart plan. That plan, unveiled last week, allows businesses such as restaurants, salons and medical services to open as early as Tuesday if they adopt safety guidelines that take into account physical-distancing and sanitation measures.

Ian Tostenson, chief executive of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association, said he was pleased the WorkSafe guidelines are consistent with the industry’s own blueprint for reopening.

More than a week ago, the association submitted to government and WorkSafe a 14-page blueprint that offered measures to ensure the safety of diners and restaurant staff.

Tostenson said they had hoped WorkSafe would publish the guidelines earlier this week to allow restaurants time and a long weekend to prepare for opening next week.

“I sense they are overwhelmed right now with having to look at so many industries,” he said.

WorkSafe also published guidelines Friday for a dozen other sectors, including education, salons, real estate, retail and health services.

Many restaurant owners, who employ thousands of workers in the region, expressed frustration at the delay, noting the restaurant association had been lauded by government for the comprehensive blueprint it had submitted.

Brooke Fader, owner of Wild Mountain Food and Drink in Sooke, is considering opening for dine-in service next weekend, but said the delay from WorkSafe created unnecessary uncertainty.

“We are disappointed WorkSafe didn’t put out the recommendations [Thursday] — it leads to a lot of wondering if we are actually coming out of Phase 1 on Tuesday or did the printer just not work?” she said.

Tostenson said the new WorkSafe B.C. protocols do not set a concrete opening date for restaurants, but those able to comply with the protocols can open as early as Tuesday.

The new guidelines suggest a very different experience the next time anyone dines out.

According to Tostenson, cleaners will likely wear masks and gloves, there will be no condiments on the tables and there will be no lineups at the door.

There might be other measures, such as plexiglass barriers between booths or bar seating areas and much more emphasis on outdoor seating where possible.

Tostenson praised the City of Victoria, in particular, for indicating its willingness to open up outdoor space to allow restaurants to increase capacity.

“Governments at both levels have been doing a lot of good things for restaurants to open up,” he said, noting the province recently announced wholesale liquor pricing for restaurants.

Even with guidelines in place, Tostenson said it’s unlikely many restaurants will be ready to start up again by Tuesday. Most will start opening closer to June 1, he said.

“We believe a lot of them will take a few weeks to get protocols in place, supply lines running and staff back.”

Tostenson said the 60-person panel the restaurant association put together to create the re-opening blueprint warned that it’s better to go slow and get it right.

“We want to make sure the public has trust in us,” he said.

Fader said Wild Mountain, which sources local and seasonal ingredients, was closed for six weeks, but has since opened with a small take-out business in picnic and heat-at-home food.

She said they are looking at opening for dine-in customers no earlier than next weekend.

Fader said there are a lot of changes coming as restaurants reopen, including in the way staff work.

“Staff will have to be trained, and guests are going to have to be retrained as well,” she said, noting the ability to linger over a meal or interact with staff will all be different. “That will be a challenge for everyone.”

Andrew Moffatt, owner of the Heron Rock Bistro and Crooked Goose restaurants, said he is unlikely to open next week. He said until he and his staff have digested the guidelines, the restaurants will remain closed for dining in.

“Obviously they are saying you can open, but we won’t until our team and staff feel like we can do this,” he said.

The two restaurants have been open for takeout during the pandemic, with Heron Rock also offering delivery. Crooked Goose is working on a delivery plan.

As for customers, Moffatt said he recommends that anyone with fears about eating in a restaurant with other people stick with takeout or delivery for now.

While it’s not yet clear when the restaurants will open — he expects it will be between June 1 and June 15 — he is currently hiring in order to be prepared. Moffatt said it will be interesting to see who will opt for a working paycheque rather than the government-benefit packages that rival some server and kitchen-staff wages.

Paul Hadfield, owner of Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub and one of 60 people on the restaurant association’s blueprint panel, said he’s looking at the restart as a chance for reinvention.

The veteran publican said there has been a marked change in the way people interact and that a pub and restaurant located along a waterfront pathway might be an ideal destination.

“I think there’s a comfortable new normal setting in out there,” he said. “I think that creates an opportunity as a neighbourhood place halfway along a walkway to stop in and have something to eat.”

Spinnakers has continued to brew beer and distill spirits through the pandemic and has been selling takeout food and cocktail packages.

When it does reopen, it will be with a capacity of about 75 in a space that has room for 225.

Hadfield said when the pub opened 36 years ago, it could handle about 75 people.

“That’s what we can do comfortably, and it’s about making the public feel safe,” he said, although he admitted that means they will not need their full complement of staff.

Hadfield relishes the chance to do some experimenting as they reopen, including expanding their outdoor space.

“As we do this restart, what do we need to fix and do differently? It’s a huge opportunity to reimagine who and what we are.”

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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