Eating places brace for a second dim New Yr’s Eve amid climbing COVID-19 instances

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Antonin Langlois, manager of the Olivia restaurant, puts chairs on tables in the restaurant in Vaudreuil-Dorion, Que., On December 31st. To curb the spread of COVID-19, restaurants in Quebec must immediately close their dining rooms at 5 p.m. today.Graham Hughes / The Canadian Press

Restaurants in Canada are again slashing New Years Eve plans or closing their doors amid rising COVID-19 cases and renewed public health measures across the country.

For the second year in a row, the pandemic has dampened what is usually the biggest nights of the year – a festival that, in good times, generates revenue that carries the hospitality industry through the sluggish winter months ahead.

Restaurants, bars and venues are subject to a range of restrictions, from capacity restrictions and dance bans to forced closings and a total curfew in Quebec.

Many restaurateurs are now struggling with canceled reservations or ticket refunds as the highly transferable Omicron variant decimates Canadians’ festive plans that seemed like a safe bet just a few weeks ago.

Meanwhile, provinces across Canada are celebrating New Year’s Eve with a new round of restrictions, causing most cities to cancel celebrations such as outdoor concerts and fireworks.

A new nightly curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. will go into effect in Quebec on Friday.

Restaurants are only allowed to offer takeout and indoor gatherings involving more than one budget bubble are prohibited. The old port of Montreal has also canceled its fireworks and celebrations.

“This is the worst possible scenario,” said Martin Vezina, a spokesman for the Quebec Restaurant Association. “This is a big night with big sales. Closing just 24 hours in advance on New Year’s Eve is very difficult. “

Larders and refrigerators in restaurants were full before New Year’s Eve, he said.

“The losses keep adding up,” said Vezina. “Some owners may be considering closing their restaurants permanently and some workers may not return.”

He added, “We already have a huge labor shortage in Quebec and the ongoing instability in the industry will make it worse.”

Ontario has a 50 percent capacity limit for restaurants and bars. You cannot sell alcohol after 10:00 PM and must close at 11:00 PM

The Ontario Alcohol and Gambling Commission announced that compliance officers will visit bars and restaurants on New Years Eve to make sure they are abiding by the rules.

Restaurants remain open in Newfoundland and Labrador, but many people have canceled their New Year’s Eve plans anyway.

Brenda O’Reilly, the owner of four restaurants in Canada’s easternmost province, said two of her restaurants will be open on New Years Eve.

But she said the reservations at Yellowbelly Brewery and the public house in downtown St. John’s – one of her favorite spots – had “been falling like flies all week.”

Their fourth location, at the airport, is open but only sees a fraction of the usual business.

“This is usually one of our best nights of the year,” said O’Reilly. “From a cash flow perspective, it carries us through part of January.”

O’Reilly said she had to cancel bands, refund tickets, and manage a canceled wedding that’s been on the books for two years.

However, their bigger concern is how Canada’s restaurant industry will survive the coming year amid ongoing restrictions and rising inflation.

“Our overheads are rising … wages are rising, food prices are rising,” said O’Reilly. “The only thing that does not increase for us is our income.”

She added: “I am really nervous about the sustainability of our sector for the next coming year. It’s really challenging and stressful and mental health is becoming a big issue in our industry. “

In British Columbia, bars and nightclubs are now closed, while restaurants, cafes and pubs can have a maximum of six people at each table and physical distancing or barriers between groups.

Gatherings of any size organized indoors are not allowed, parties and celebrations such as New Year’s Eve parties are prohibited.

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