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MONTREAL -- Tavern on the Square has the spookiest Halloween display its owners can imagine: an empty dining room, under construction.
“I've shifted from anger more to acceptance in my stage of grief here,” said Jon Cercone, a co-owner of the Westmount restaurant.
He struck a note Monday that’s beginning to sound familiar. Like 200 gym owners who threatened to reopen on Thursday if the government doesn’t provide data showing they’re causing COVID-19 transmission, Cercone said he believes his dining room is safe.
“Show me evidence that I’m a superspreader, show me evidence that I'm harmful, instead of arbitrarily closing me,” Cercone said.
This summer’s revenues were good, he said, after the province allowed dining rooms to reopen at partial capacity.
The restaurant went above and beyond public health requirements, he said. Now that restaurants have been closed again, except for takeout and delivery, he says he wants information proving that’s necessary.
The owner of a major franchising chain agrees. Peter Mammas, the owner of Foodtastic, normally employs about 5,000 restaurant employees across its various chains.
Mammas complains that communication from the province has been terrible and the situation unpredictable.
“I am disappointed,” he said. “From day to day they’ve been changing their minds. We have no outlook and no way to prepare for it.”
Restaurants Canada says 10 per cent of the country’s restaurants have permanently shut down since the first lockdown.
The organization now believes at least half are in trouble and estimates that at least half of those restaurants will close in the next six to nine months—and it blames this on the closure of dining rooms.
“It's impossible to think that the restaurant sector is going to survive if the dining rooms are closed,” said David Lefebvre of Restaurants Canada.
He also argued that banning gatherings just drives them underground, and that the government should take this into account.
“We feel it's much safer if it's done in restaurants and in institutions that are honestly regulated to do this right now,” he said.
Cercone says he can’t picture what the Montreal dining scene will look like when this is all over, but he says that’s a big-picture question that’s the concern of more than just the individual restaurant owners.
“Montreal is a restaurant city—people come here for our restaurants, and you're taking away a lot of the appeal of the city,” he said.
On Monday, Legault announced Quebec's red zone restriction would be extended for another 28 days but said the province will also extend aid programs for businesses such restaurants for that duration. However, when asked, Legault said he believes the aid currently in place, along with federal programs aimed helping companies meet payroll, should be sufficient and no new programs would be announced.