March 5 is circled on the calendars in local restaurants since it’s the next date for possible health order changes.
Last week, Premier Brian Pallister announced the easing of some pandemic restrictions. There have been remarkably few new reported COVID cases in Southern Health and in the southeast generally.
As of Feb. 12, restaurants and licensed premises were able to reopen at 25 percent capacity, although patron groups can only be limited to members of the same household. Buffets are still not allowed under the orders, and dining areas must close by 10 p.m. In licensed establishments, liquor can only be sold if a meal has been ordered.
The effects of the eased restrictions on restaurants depend on the restaurant.
Suke Koeuth, owner of Chicken Chef on Main Street in Steinbach, said a step back to normal is a good start.
"For us, it’s great," Koeuth said. "That’s what we’re looking for. My servers are very happy with it."
Koeuth said the restrictions had a detrimental effect on business, but the restaurant survived in part because of takeout. Takeout consists of the majority of sales, at times nearly 60 percent.
The restaurant has an online ordering system and uses its own drivers for takeout, Koeuth said.
"We were able to keep some of the staff on full-time and pay the bills," Koeuth said. "It wasn’t good but it was bearable."
Chicken Chef continued operating since labour costs were lower and since Koeuth worked more.
The new pandemic rules mean capacity in the restaurant would be at most 35-40 people, and Koeuth expects the indoor customer total could rise to capacity on weekends and during special events.
The restrictions for Blatz B-stro, located at the Victoria Plaza Mall, have been "a hard struggle," according to owner Mary Bueckert-Blatz. Customers have stopped showing up for in-house dining, but paying bills and rent continues.
The restaurant, formerly known as Skylite Family Restaurant, isn’t known as a take-out establishment, nor does it have a drive-thru window.
Blatz B-stro decided not to open despite the eased restrictions because a health inspector told owners 11 people was the most the restaurant was allowed to serve at a given time. The arrangement in the restaurant, Bueckert-Blatz said, would amount to something like one person per table, which she said wasn’t viable.
The other option was closing doors and selling food at reduced prices via pickup or delivery, Bueckert-Blatz said. Hoping for eased restrictions in early March is also part of the plan, but if rules don’t change, Bueckert-Blatz expects the restaurant will carry on as it is.
"We’re putting on ridiculously low specials to bring people in [and] show appreciation to our faithful customers," Bueckert-Blatz said, adding she hopes the restaurant’s efforts also attract new customers. The restaurant offers Toonie Tuesdays, and the delivery arrangement involves a local taxi.
Bueckert-Blatz is also considering opening a wholesale arrangement that sells food items in bulk.
Both restaurant owners have opinions of social media.
Koeuth said there’s plenty of negativity online, and plenty of criticism toward the government.
"We have to take it as it is," Koeuth said. "We’re just happy that the government changed its mind about opening, and we all have to adjust." The government is trying its best, Koeuth said.
Social media has been the main promotional tool for Blatz B-stro, including regular posts on the popular Facebook page WOW Steinbach.
"We’re doing whatever we can to promote our restaurant and our business, just to stay alive," Bueckert-Blatz said.
-With files from Jordan Ross