Frustration sets in as COVID-19 rules keep changing for Sarnia-area restaurants

It’s been a tough slog for the restaurant industry across Southwestern Ontario amid the year-long pandemic.

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It’s been a tough slog for the restaurant industry across Southwestern Ontario amid the year-long pandemic.

Last spring’s lockdown was followed by a flurry of changing colours under the province’s reopening framework and, with them, varying restrictions. Over the previous three months, dine-in establishments in the Sarnia area have had to follow guidelines under green, yellow, grey – Ontario lockdown 2.0 – and, last week, orange.

But after just six days in the pumpkin-coloured phase, the region went red Monday. The frequent rule changes have caused frustration for area restaurateurs.

“The biggest emotion for it right now is frustration,” Ashley Marsden, general manager of the Bad Dog location in Corunna, said Sunday. “Nothing is the same day to day right now.”

On Sunday, Bad Dog, which has a second location in Sarnia, was able to serve up to 50 customers indoors – physically distanced – at the same time. But as of Monday, the maximum number of inside patrons plummets to 10.

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Marsden said the restaurant will essentially be switching back to a takeout model while doing its best to serve 10 in-person customers at the same time. The dog-inspired diners will be taking some reservations, but it’s difficult to gauge how long people will stay and they don’t want to implement time limits, Marsden said.

“It’s really hard to make these adjustments and constantly be saying to our guests, ‘OK, this week we’re taking reservations. OK, next week we’re not taking reservations, but we’re going to be open (for dine-in),’” she said.

Some rules, such as table limits of four, mandatory mask use when not eating or drinking and reduced hours, will stay the same.

The region’s rise to red was based on numbers as the weekly incidence rate of 60 confirmed cases per 100,000 people was well above the threshold of 40. Dr. Sudit Ranade, Lambton’s medical officer of health, hinted last week the colour change was in the cards.

But the short stay in orange was costly for the service industry due to the increased inventory required to serve five times as many people. Several part-time staff were also briefly brought back in when the Boxing Day lockdown lifted Feb. 16.

“Between the two restaurants, we’ve got 50 shifts that are gone from last week,” Marsden said. “It’s a lot on our staff. It’s a lot on our owners. It’s a lot on our management.”

A summer hiring blitz also had to been put on hold.

“We can’t do that hire now,” Marsden said, “because how long are we going to be in red for?”

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The Corunna resident said the two restaurants, owned by a couple from Sarnia, have been “super supported” by consistent takeout sales from loyal customers, but overall it’s been a “difficult” year, she added.

“It’s definitely a hard change,” she said. “We’ve pushed through since last March and we’ll continue to push through.”


RED RULES

Restrictions on Sarnia-Lambton restaurants as of Monday include:

  • 10-patron limits indoors with physical distancing
  • A cap on four people per table
  • All customers must provide their contact information
  • Face coverings required except when eating or drinking
  • No alcohol can be served after 9 p.m.
  • Nightly 10 p.m. closing time

For the entire list, along with changes for other industries, religious organizations and private gatherings, visit bit.ly/3um6mxa.

tbridge@postmedia.com

@ObserverTerry

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