'Not...a storm trooper serving you': Restaurants aim to balance safety and normalcy
MONTREAL -- Petros Taverna first opened in Westmount four years ago, but its owner feels like he’s reopening it now all over again.
“Basically, a lot of the tables will be [for] smaller…groups, either four or six,” said Ted Dranias on Tuesday, surveying the new setup that will allow for COVID-safe eating.
The tables will all be two metres apart, reducing the restaurant’s capacity by half. Hand sanitizer will be at the entrance, and employees will be in protective equipment.
Customers will be the judge, in the end, of how he set it up.
“The most important is the clientele,” he said. “We have to make them feel comfortable that we are properly operating our businesses with the government guidelines.”
But he still worries that people simply won’t come. He sees former clients walking nearby sometimes, especially older people, and they give him an apprehensive look, he says.
“I don't blame them—there is a lot of paranoia going around so it will take a while, I’m sure.”
Another restaurant owner is laying his hopes in the fact that people are probably really sick of cooking at home or getting takeout.
“They're tired of being on their couch,” said Jimmy Komas of Table 51.
“They need to get out, they need to people-watch, they need to be in a different setting.”
One of his goals is to make the dining experience look normal while still respecting the staff equipment guidelines.
He wants to find “something that can allow them to end up going to the table and not feeling like a storm trooper serving you.”
The Quebec Restaurants Association agrees that the challenge won’t be bringing customers back but keeping them.
“Maybe people, after that, will say it's a good customer service but it's not the same as it was before, so maybe they won’t come out as often as they would have done,” said Martin Vezina of the association.
It’s a question that will only be answered starting June 22, when Montreal’s restaurants are allowed to throw open the doors.
Meanwhile, every day seems to bring bar owners closer to their breaking point, with one of their industry groups warning Tuesday they would engage in "civil disobedience" if they weren't allowed to reopen.
Restaurants will be able to serve alcohol with no food, but bars that have no kitchen won't be able to do the same.
Ziggy Eichenbaum, the owner of Ziggy’s Bar on Crescent St., said he can keep customers distanced, like a restaurant. He removed some of his booths and added space between bar stools. But legally, it doesn’t change a thing, since he doesn’t have a kitchen.
“The surviving part, it’s hard,” he said. “You lean on the money you had before.”
The province says it’s currently working on a set of bar-specific regulations that will strike a compromise.