A group of Vancouver restaurant owners has signed a letter addressed to provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry asking for an apology over the way restrictions were announced ahead of New Year’s Eve.
On Dec. 30, 2020, health officials announced they were stopping liquor sales provincewide at 8 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.
Restaurant owners were upset about the way the changes were announced with just one day’s notice and Meeru Dhalwala, the co-owner of Vij’s restaurant in Vancouver, wrote a letter to Henry to voice their frustrations.
“Restaurants have not been found to be hotspots for any kind of COVID infection. So we consider ourselves part of the team that is keeping our society calm, safe and kind. And so, what happened on New Year’s Eve, we had no indication that anything was going to change,” she said Monday.
“Planning a restaurant for dine-in is extremely different than planning a restaurant for take-out. We were prepared for dine-in all the way through to 10 p.m. And then at the very last minute alcohol sales were restricted to 8 p.m. So a lot of restaurants lost their 8 p.m. sitting all together, which means a lot of inventory, alcohol inventory is wasted.”
Henry said the order was designed to limit risky behaviour that may be fuelled by alcohol.
But Dhalwala said while she understands that, the timing of the announcement left many restaurants scrambling to deal with too much inventory, staff schedules and then having to accommodate a very high number of takeout orders that they were not prepared for.
“We didn’t know what to do, we didn’t know what hit us. And it was so unnecessary,” she said.
“When it was our night to shine safely, our wings were clipped.”
She said they had some cancellations and a lot of confusion from customers about what to do.
Now with two big restaurant dates coming up next month, Dhalwala said she wants more notice if any changes are going to be needed and they want to be part of the conversation.
Dine Out Vancouver and Valentine’s Day are both big events for restaurants, Dhalwala said, and they don’t know whether to start preparing special menus and taking reservations or if they are going to be issued new restrictions.
She added that if they are going to be shut down, they would like to be told sooner rather than later.
“We do not wish to participate in any sort of danger in relation to COVID-19,” she said. We don’t wish to put ourselves or our staff at any risk if we are deemed that way.”
“We need to be heard, we need to be consulted and we need to be respected most of all and we need to be told in a timely manner.
“We can’t function at this very last-minute slamming of the door.”
Henry said Monday she knows the restaurant industry has been hit hard by the pandemic and she is committed to keeping them open safely.
“I will just say that the communication around New Year’s Eve was done for a very specific purpose because of the information that I was receiving from the beverage industry, from the restaurant industry,” she said. “But also from municipal leaders, from others in the community who had concerns about things that were being planned. And we had discussions about the public health issues that we were trying to address. And it really was about overconsumption of alcohol later in the evening. So that’s why we targeted all of the places where alcohol can be sold. So stores, grocery stores that sell alcohol, restaurants and bars and that was done at short notice because of the issues that arose.”
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