Restaurant and bar owners bemused by health and safety measures

By Michael Boriero - Local ­Journalism Initiative Reporter

When restaurants and bars opened up two weeks ago, owners were given five days to recalibrate and adjust to the new normal, which meant two metres between tables, hand sanitizer, masks, and visors.
Sebby’s Pub and Grill owner Louis Pilon said the measures established by Quebec’s health officials make sense, but “not everybody is respecting them.” He isn’t complaining, though. According to Pilon, it’s more beneficial this way.
“If we only had couples and family living together coming for lunch or dinner we wouldn’t even have close to the sales that we have,” he said.
The problem is trying to enforce all health and safety rules. While it was relatively easy to rejig Sebby’s to accommodate physical distancing, it’s nearly impossible to guarantee that restaurant patrons are from the same family.
The 47-year-old said that caution went out the window after a couple of days. It’s evident that people are skirting the rules and pretending to be from the same household. But they aren’t there to be cops, he explained.
“We have people working in offices and shops that sit together, they tell us they live together and we’re not going to start asking for proof of residence,” Pilon said.
At this point, the restaurant is facing a 30 to 40 per cent decrease in sales compared to last year. Pilon, Sebby’s owner for the last 23 years, believes they can bounce back, but it’ll take time.
He said that before the government released its COVID-19 incentives and programs, bankruptcy was a real option. However, thanks to the loans he was able to keep his establishment “out of the water” and reopen on June 15. Although Pilon is optimistic, he feels the looming presence of a second wave. Many health experts believe more COVID-19 cases are all but certain to arrive in the coming months. He doesn’t know if restaurants and pubs can handle another shut down.
“Honestly, I don’t think restaurants will be able to survive with the 40 per cent drop in revenue because restaurants, whether you’re fast-food or fancy or any kind of restaurant, you need volume to survive,” said Pilon.
Maxime Pothier, owner of Le King Hall, echoed Pilon’s sentiments about the future of bars and restaurants if a second wave hits. While his bar, which recently added a renovated restaurant, can survive, not everybody has that same luxury.
“I know a lot of people that don’t know if they’ll survive right now, so with another wave it’s going to be the death of a lot of nice places,” said Pothier.
The 38-year-old took ownership of the location six years ago. He has since made several changes, converting it to a microbrewery and injecting money into the restaurant side.
Le King Hall, which is known for being the first bar in Quebec to serve Guinness outside of Montreal, is going through growing pains when dealing with post-COVID-19 pandemic rules.
“We tell the customer that you cannot stand up and go walk to see other customers, you have to stay at your table; you can go to the toilet, you can go smoke, but it’s the only thing you can do,” Pothier said.
He added that patrons need to wait outside before entering the building, so that servers can clean and disinfect the area after clients leave. But, seeing as there is alcohol in play, upholding the rules can be hard at times.
When people get drunk they stop listening, he explained, so they created a three strike system. After the third strike, patrons in violation of health and safety rules are asked to leave.
It’s something Pothier isn’t accustomed to yet, especially since many of the people at his bar are simply there to support his business. They need customers to survive and he encourages the enthusiasm, but people need to respect the rules.
Pothier admits he is taking safety measures very seriously. He considers Le King Hall to be one of the stricter locations open to the public. He’s confident that patrons will accept the new regulations, but for now, they’re just too excited to hold back.
“People were starving for three months and now the customer looks like a new student from Bishop’s right now,” said Pothier, laughing over the phone.

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