Hospitality patio approvals speeded up

B.C. is expediting temporary approvals for extra patio spaces for bars, restaurants and wineries to help businesses bring in more revenue as they reopen.

New health and safety rules have cut the allowed number of seats in half and include social-distancing requirements.

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“This pandemic has hit our hospitality sector hard,” Attorney General David Eby said Friday.

“Our government has been working with industry on ways to support the more than 180,000 British Columbians who work in pubs, restaurants and other parts of the sector.”

Speeding up the process will help businesses and give people more options to eat out safely, while following the directions of provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, Eby said.

Restaurants, pubs, wineries and breweries began opening again this week after in-house service was prohibited in mid-March in a bid to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

B.C.’s Liquor and Cannabis Regulation branch now permits outlets with food-primary, liquor-primary and manufacturer licences to apply through a simplified online process to temporarily expand their service areas until Oct. 31.

The change will allow businesses to increase the size of their seating areas, but it won’t affect the number of seats they are permitted. Municipal approval is required. Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association said the change is “excellent news.”

“This pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for all of us, and it has been invaluable for government and industry to work together as they have, as we take these important steps toward recovery,” he said.

While some Greater Victoria establishments are eager to add outdoor space as the weather warms up, not all expect to benefit.

Natasha Richardson, general manager at the Brentwood Bay Resort on Verdier Avenue, said she has plenty of room to comply with provincial distancing standards, but is being hurt by the rule that demands a 50% cut in seating.

The pub has a licence for 120 seats, now reduced by half to 60, and plenty of space.

If it were permitted to meet the distancing guidelines only, then it could fit a total of 73 seats, Richardson said.

Every business is unique, she said. “That’s the piece that we are finding the most challenging.”

At the Loghouse Pub on Millstream Road in Langford, manager Darren Cross said the fast-track approval for outdoor space “will benefit a lot of places, for sure.”

No decision has been made at the Loghouse — which has a licence for 217 pre-pandemic — about whether to apply. It has a large patio, but it might seek to use a portion of the lawn, he said.

Allowing more seats outdoors will especially help small businesses, Cross said. For those, “it is hard to do enough business to pay the bills,” he said.

John Adair, one of the owners of Sooke Brewing Co. on Otter Point Road, was pleased to see the expedited approval process for patios.

“It would definitely be something that would help us out because we’ve lost a major amount of capacity within the tasting room,” Adair said.

“The business model here is really built around that.”

The company had 80 seats before closing in March, but is now at 30 — 15 indoors and 15 outdoors, Adair said. Extra room could be used in a parking lot and in front of the business to meet demand, he said.

It also has a patio. “To be able to increase that outside capacity would really help get us back to where we were before March,” Adair said.

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