Restaurant industry looking at innovative ways to remain viable

Restaurants get innovative

Now that we've seen what life looks like with expanded outdoor patio service through the summer, how about winter patios?

It's an idea Ian Tostenson, president of the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association says could be in the works.

Tostenson says if there is anything positive to take out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it's the willingness of people to look beyond regulations and bylaws to come up with ideas and solutions no one would have entertained six months ago.

"A lot of restaurants are saying (winter patios) would be great, and there are ways of doing it," said Tostenson.

"It could be fun...eating your burger outside on a patio with a toque on, beside a heater.'

While there are strict regulations concerning heaters, Tostenson says there is a willingness to try and find solutions.

"I can see some things happening in Kelowna for the winter."

This comes as restaurants, bars, pubs and coffee shops across the province are losing additional outdoor patio space set up in many communities across the province to allow for increased capacity through the summer months.

Kelowna's expanded program, which included the closure of three blocks of Bernard Avenue, came to an end Monday.

"It was very handy for restaurants," said Tostenson about the expanded patio service.

"But, what I do worry about is what happens as the patio season comes to an end. You're not going to see a lot of Christmas parties of those types of things in restaurants leading up to November and December. We have a long way to go here.

"It's not perfect, and I know we're still operating at 60 per cent capacity where it's tough for anybody to make money, but at least we're open and have a chance to do some things and make some money."

The association has written to municipalities across the province asking that patio programs for 2021 be approved well ahead of time to allow business ample opportunity to prepare, and also to make parking spaces available outside restaurants for the resumption of pickup service.

Moving forward, he says there remains a lot of concern within the industry as things revert back to pre-summer occupancy limits.

"We're going to really need the federal government to continue with wage subsidies, and get a proper rent program in place so the tenant can get a direct benefit in spite of the landlords participation.

"We're going to need a continuation of whole liquor pricing from the province."

As for the announcement by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry forcing the closure of night clubs and banquet halls, and restricting the sale of alcohol after 10 p.m., Tostenson says that shouldn't have much of an effect on restaurants.

"They'll feel the incremental bar service later on, but the biggest problem will be in night clubs and traditional bars," he said.

"Where we make most of our money before 10 o'clock, they make most of their money between 10 p.m. and midnight."

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