COVID restrictions create uncertainty, confusion for Victoria bars and restaurants

The ban on social gatherings outside your household is a huge blow to restaurants heading into the Christmas season and has left some business owners confused about their role in enforcing the order.

Business has been quiet at the Fernwood Inn since Thursday when provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced that social gatherings with anyone other than your immediately household are off the table. ­Typically heading into ­December, the pub would be booked out every night with Christmas parties of up to 50 people mingling in the private booking space. Now, sales are 80 per cent less than a typical season and most of the tables are filled with parties of two or three, said Fernwood Inn general manager Mike Colwill.

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“It was very sobering to see how slow it was this weekend,” he said.

So far, customers have been complying with the order that requires them to wear masks inside the establishment until they’re seated at their table, Colwill said. The toughest thing, however, is for staff to determine who is in a household or bubble.

“It is a bit awkward because no one knows who is in what bubble,” Colwill said. People who live alone are prohibited from hosting gatherings, but can see one or two people from their core bubble.

The Fernwood Inn also attracts a lot of regulars who are used to sidling up to the bar and enjoying a pint with a friend. Now, those customers are spaced out at tables of one around the bar.

After the restrictions were announced on Thursday, Anne Farmer, co-owner of Moon Under Water Brewpub and Distillery, contacted the B.C. Alliance of Beverage Licensees to find out her obligation around enforcing the “household only” rule.

“They informed us it’s not up to us to police who is in whose household,” Farmer said. “We can’t tell if you’re in the same household and it’s not up to us to start asking for proof of ­residency and that type of thing.”

The brewpub typically serves a lot of co-workers who come in to have lunch together and Farmer doesn’t want to turn those customers away.

“They’re in their work bubble. If you’ve got three or four people who work together all day long and then you tell them they can’t come in and have lunch together, it doesn’t make sense.”

The pub has masks at the door for people to don before taking their seat at a table but if someone walks in and seats themselves without a mask, Farmer told her staff it’s not worth getting into a confrontation. Farmer said she’s relying on the public to abide by the provincial health orders.

Jeff Guignard, executive director of the B.C. Alliance of Beverage Licensees, said the new orders have created a lot of confusion for bar and restaurant owners, an industry that is already “on its knees financially.”

“To be abundantly clear, it’s not the responsibility of a business owner or a licensee to determine who should and should not be in a group,” he said. “Our only obligation is to keep that group safe when they come to a restaurant or bar.”

Rob Chyzowski, owner of Belleville’s Watering Hole & Diner, said each new restriction is another kick for the business but he’s finding ways to adapt and hang on. As the cold weather sets in, Chyzowski doubled the number of outdoor heaters on the patio and will offer disposable reflective warming blankets so that more customers can dine outside right through the winter. Speaking Monday afternoon, Chyzowski said there were about seven tables on the patio whereas this time last year, there would be none.

“For me my biggest increase [in business] is my patio,” ­Chyzowski said. “We’re trying to think outside the box.”

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