September 29, 2020

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Socializing in restaurants sparks controversy

The pandemic rules governing the reopening of Winnipeg restaurants are clear. What’s less clear — and what’s become a contentious issue among restaurateurs — is how the rules should be enforced, and by whom.

Some restaurant owners say they obey the letter of the law, which includes distancing tables six feet apart, but they’re in the hospitality business and don’t want to be killjoys scolding customers who, for instance, break the six-foot buffer by visiting other tables to socialize.

More-rigid owners of other restaurants worry their competitors’ laissez-faire attitudes might prompt health officials to retract the partial reopening that restaurants are now allowed.

A passerby suggested on social media Chaise Corydon wasn’t socially distancing guests.

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A passerby suggested on social media Chaise Corydon wasn’t socially distancing guests.

Controversy sparked over August long weekend when photos of patrons crowded together at a Corydon Avenue restaurant circulated on Facebook.

"If somebody wants to go up and talk to somebody else, we're letting them," said Shea Ritchie, the owner of Chaise Corydon.

He insists his restaurant is following provincial public health protocols: the tables and chairs are spaced two metres apart from other sets, the restaurant has never exceeded maximum capacity and security guards are on site.

Ritchie said adult customers can make their own decisions — if they want to go and mingle with people they didn't come to the restaurant with, that's their choice. He's been issued tickets twice for not following social distancing protocols, once in June, and once in July.

Sandy Doyle has reduced the seating in her restaurant, Blondies Burgers on Main Street, from 30 to 10 people.

JESSE BOILY / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Sandy Doyle has reduced the seating in her restaurant, Blondies Burgers on Main Street, from 30 to 10 people.

The most recent iteration of the province’s public health order does not explicitly state that restaurant and bar owners need to keep customers apart at all times.

Sandy Doyle has reduced the seating in her restaurant, Blondies Burgers on Main Street, from 30 to 10 people. When Doyle saw the pictures of Chaise Corydon online, she thought it was irresponsible situation.

"I just wish that people would open their eyes and realize this is not over," Doyle said. "The virus is not going away."

Doyle said her tables don't have tablecloths anymore. She and her co-worker sanitize the tables, chairs and doorknobs often, and they try to clean the bathroom after every use.

Doyle said she's worried she'll have to close her dining room again if there's a major spike in cases.

Nick Van Seggelen, Bodegoes' owner, said even with takeout and delivery, sales are less than 50 per cent of the seasonal normal.

JESSE BOILY / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Nick Van Seggelen, Bodegoes' owner, said even with takeout and delivery, sales are less than 50 per cent of the seasonal normal.

David Hopkins is president of The Fifteen Group, a hospitality management and consulting firm that has clients across North America. He said it's in restaurant owners' best interests to follow public health protocols.

"The better solution for the community, and for businesses on the whole, is to get on board with everything so we can get through it faster and get back to normal faster," Hopkins said.

One way to offset lost revenue is to increase prices a bit, he said. And to keep restaurants open, customers should be socially distanced — and restaurant staff should be enforcing policies. It's something staff are supposed to do all the time, including when there's no pandemic, Hopkins said.

"You may have a policy that you can't sing and dance on a table, and clearly if a guest sings and dances on a table, you need to deal with that," he said.

Bodegoes, a restaurant on Bannatyne Avenue, is allowing 50 per cent of its capacity to dine in. Nick Van Seggelen, the restaurant's owner, said even with takeout and delivery, sales are less than 50 per cent of the seasonal normal.

Restaurant staff and customers should share responsibility on following public health guidelines, Seggelen said.

JESSE BOILY / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Restaurant staff and customers should share responsibility on following public health guidelines, Seggelen said.

Social distancing protocols are a hassle, but they're necessary to keep everyone safe and to get back to more normal times, he said, adding that restaurant staff and customers should share responsibility on following public health guidelines.

"If people are being responsible, it should fall on them as well," Van Seggelen said.

It is the responsibility of restaurant staff — and staff of other public spaces — to ensure different groups are staying two metres apart, a provincial spokesperson said in an email.

"The management and staff need to take measures to ensure that the patrons from different parties are spaced 2 metres /6 feet apart from other groups of patrons, at all times," the spokesperson wrote. "Establishments are to take whatever measures are needed to comply with the orders including; counting number of patrons to ensure the establishment is well within their limits to keep the public properly spaced 2m/6ft apart."

Businesses that don't follow the province's public health protocols could receive a $2,542 fine. Officers and inspectors working under The Workplace Safety and Health Act, The Liquor Gaming and Cannabis Control Act, The Public Health Act and The Provincial Parks Act, along with officers within the Manitoba Agriculture and Resource Development, can hand out tickets.

gabrielle.piche@freepress.mb.ca

Gabrielle Piché

Gabrielle Piché
Community journalist — The Headliner

Gabrielle Piché is the community journalist for The Headliner. Email her at gabrielle.piche@canstarnews.com

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