With less than 24 hours’ notice, restaurateurs in Calgary and Brooks, Alta., found out that they would not be permitted to reopen for sit-down service last Thursday like the rest of the province.
PJ L’Heureux, co-owner of the popular microbrew-focused chain Craft Beer Market, which is based in Calgary, invested both time and money into reopening on Day 1 of Alberta’s economic relaunch. Mr. L’Heureux said the last-minute notice that Calgary restaurants wouldn’t be able to open cost his business about $100,000.
“You cannot open our restaurant properly in only a day or two, it takes weeks for preparation and training on new protocols,” he said. “The decision was made in the best interest of the safety of Calgarians; however, the timing was something no restaurant can plan for.”
The provincial government cited increased infection numbers in Calgary and Brooks when it decided to put them on a delayed schedule for reopening. Retailers were permitted to open in both communities, but dine-in restaurants and hair salons won’t be able to restart until at least May 25. Some restaurants have called on the government to compensate them for losses related to the delay.
Premier Jason Kenney said he sympathized with the businesses but said the decision was based on advice from public-health officials.
Leading up to the date of possible reopening, Craft Beer Market spent days mapping out new safety procedures including preshift temperature checks of employees, fewer kitchen staff to provide more space for back-of-house workers and extended spacing between tables in their dining rooms.
Once those protocols were determined, the company did a lot of training for their staff in both Calgary and Edmonton. Mr. L’Heureux said that because of the large square footage of his restaurants, they are able to adapt to physical distancing regulations easier than other restaurants when it comes to sit-down dining.
“I believe guests will feel very comfortable in our rooms," says Mr. L’Heureux. “We’ve created a COVID playbook and we treat this as if we are opening the restaurant for the first time. We did live training runs simulated as if we had guests in the building. [Our staff] have been great and understand the severity of our new protocols.”
Vancouver-based restaurant chain Joey Restaurants spans locations across the country and has been experiencing postpandemic dining in a variety of ways. Its Winnipeg location reopened on May 4 for sit-down patio service and their Edmonton locations reopened this past Thursday.
Casey Miles, the company’s vice-president of culinary operations, said the chain has done an extraordinary amount of work to ensure both employees and diners are safe. This has included reworking floor plans in all locations to allow for proper physical distancing, securing personal protective equipment such as gloves and masks , and creating a COVID-19 health-and-safety training package that each worker was required to complete.
“We assumed they knew nothing and built the training from that standpoint,” said Mr. Miles. “Each [employee] went through a full orientation, as we would when bringing on new hires, prior to their first shift.”
Before starting their shift, workers must now sanitize anything they bring in with them from outside such as cellphones, watches and keys. Following that, their temperatures are taken and logged.
Now that their Winnipeg location has been operating its patio service for two weeks and Edmonton locations over the weekend, Mr. Miles said they are getting settled into this “new normal.” In Alberta, that means operating at half their usual capacity.
“At first, there was a lot of anxiousness for the staff, but once exposed to our new protocols and the mandatory training, quickly this went away,” said Mr. Miles.
Edmonton restaurateur Paul Shufelt owns several eateries in the Alberta capital and is also one of the few independent restaurant owners who opted to reopen a restaurant prior to the long weekend. Still feeling as though it was too early for his Workshop Eatery for lunch and dinner service, Mr. Shufelt decided to focus on reopening Woodshed Burgers to test the postpandemic waters.
“It was a range of emotions from being anxious about whether or not we have done enough to sheer excitement about being able to do what we enjoy most, taking care of people,” said Mr. Shufelt. “The first guests have been grateful to be out of their homes and experiencing some sort of social gathering, even if it looks much different than it once did.”
In the new approach to service at the casual burger spot, directional arrows have been placed on the floor, which patrons follow from the door to the counter to their seats. As well, plexiglass has been installed between part of the kitchen and service counter and daily health and safety updates are issued during workers’ preshifts.
Mr. Shufelt said that Woodshed’s manager has spent the first few days mostly acting as a doorman to help control the flow of people coming in to dine. Any staff that have close interactions with diners wear gloves and masks and all staff are checked for possible symptoms of COVID-19 daily. Mr. Shufelt admits things are a lot different now because of the sterile nature of extensive safety protocols.
“It’s hard to see the smile behind the mask. It’s hard to create a warm and welcoming setting when we are asked to maintain six feet of distance,” said Mr. Shufelt.
“One of the greatest joys of being a restaurant owner is talking with our guests, shaking their hands or hugging them when they arrive. We want our customers to feel like guests in our homes. I’m not sure when [that feeling] might return.”
Sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter to read the day’s essential coronavirus news, features and explainers written by Globe reporters and editors.