Restaurateurs fear post-Christmas virus spike, saying winter will be financial breaking point
MONTREAL -- Most restaurants in Quebec that still have the means to fire up the grill probably look a lot like the Burgundy Lion Pub on Notre-Dame St. W.
A skeleton staff there are preparing takeout orders day and night and, along with management, just “trying to survive,” said owner Paul Desbaillets.
That’s why he and some peers in the industry are calling the Quebec government’s Christmas plan “a huge contradiction" -- and not just because they haven't been invited to join in and briefly open the dining room.
Quebec authorities announced this month that each Quebecer will be allowed to attend two gatherings of ten people each over four days around Christmas.
Desbaillets says it’s another example of how “it’s the little guys that are taking the hits.”
The policy will lead to a spike in infections and an even more prolonged lockdown -- right at the time when he, and Quebec's main restaurant association, predict many establishments will run out of steam and go under for good.
“We believe that if the lockdown continues for our industry, and we don’t have enough financial help in January and February, many [restaurants] will close down,” said Martin Vezina, a spokesperson for the Quebec Restaurant Association.
Desbaillets says that “as a human with a family, you understand where they’re going” with the Christmas easing of rules.
As a business owner, however, he feels differently. “People need to work,” he said.
Right now, the red zone restrictions have only been extended to January 11, unless case numbers increase. He says it sounds like the province is heading that way by design.
He watched Quebec's public health director publicly broadcast his expectation this week that the government’s "moral contract" will worsen the situation in Quebec, at least temporarily, in the weeks following Christmas.
“We will have more [cases of COVID-19]. It’s impossible we won’t have more,” Dr. Horacio Arruda repeated today at a press conference.
“So it really makes me wonder, then, what’s the plan?" said Desbaillets.
The co-owner of Monkland Tavern echoed his thoughts, saying “it’s all so discouraging."
Barbara Irwin said her staff has to work incredibly hard to make a go of the new iteration of the restaurant. A food market has replaced the dining room, and Tavern also offers takeout meals.
Irwin says she thinks dining rooms won’t be reopened before May, at this rate.
“I think we’re being given another hurdle because I think [Legault] is just trying to give everyone a bone, but it’s supposed to be about safety and health,” she said.
She called the holiday plan “irresponsible” in general, because it will likely make more people sick.
THE DINING-ROOM CONTRADICTION
Paul Desbaillets is also having a hard time getting his head around what he describes as a second contradiction: why family dining rooms can open, but restaurant ones can't.
Quebec’s restaurant association agrees with that critique, especially since much bigger businesses can stay open to the public.
“From the beginning, we were thinking that we provide a safe environment and we believe our dining rooms could be opened safely,” says Martin Vezina.
“We are allowing gatherings for two days but we don’t allow some public spaces to be open -- it is contradictory."
Restaurants Canada has estimated that as many as 50 per cent of the country's restaurants will be forced to close permanently by March 2021.
This week, Montreal restaurant and bar owners held a rally in the Old Port, asking for government support, and Legault responded that many of them hadn't put their paperwork in order.
Irwin said that “it feels like we’re being kicked while we’re down."