Tech firm opens patio platform for Island restaurant industry

A Victoria technology company has extended a critical lifeline to the region’s beleaguered ­restaurant industry.

Blackfish Networks and Host 250 have built a new online platform for restaurants and pubs on Vancouver Island to promote their patio spaces.

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The province last week ordered restaurants to close all indoor seating and to serve only in outdoor spaces until at least April 19 as COVID-19 cases surge across B.C. The order left many establishments already struggling with pandemic restrictions and multiple pivots teetering on collapse.

Just over 100 eateries from Victoria to Ladysmith were listed on VictoriaPatios.ca by Monday and more were being added by the minute, said Blackfish Networks CEO Bill Speta.

“We cranked this out in 48 hours … normally it would be a six-week project,” said Speta.

The website construction and data input is all being done for free by Speta and web designer Gabriel McCay, who are partners in Host 250, as well as a legion of volunteers. Victoria hospitality consultant ­Morgan Blake pitched the idea to ­Blackfish.

Restaurants can list descriptions about their food, links and contact information, the number of patio seats, takeout options and a photo.

“The response is overwhelming,” said Speta. “Restaurants have been through so much during COVID and many are just fighting to survive.”

He said Blackfish Networks does about 80 per cent of its business in the hospitality sector, “and this is our way of reaching out when they need it.”

For Dave Kindrat, owner of Fiamo Italian Kitchen downtown and co-owner of the Fifth Street Bar & Grill on Hillside Avenue, the online patio platform is already driving customers his way.

“It’s a great idea, it really is, and it helps us at a really tough time in the industry,” Kindrat said Monday.

Kindrat rushed to install a large tent in his parking lot at Fifth Street Bar & Grill on Thursday. With patio seating along the side of the building, it more than doubled his outside seats to 76.

Clear but cool weather over the Easter weekend brought a lot of diners, leaving Kindrat encouraged.

“I’m grateful to the city, to the liquor board and to [VictoriaPatio.ca] for all the help they give us,” he said. “It’s great to still be in business, regardless of the diminished capacity.

“I have family in Ontario and the province is back on full lockdown. In B.C., we can’t let it get to that. I think as long as we can operate safely we can get past this.”

Speta said the website will continue to be upgraded with new features, such as pet-friendly options, and will eventually also serve the tourism sector when travel resumes.

dkloster@timescolonist.com

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