Dine-in may not be an option for restaurants scrambling to find staff as Manitoba COVID-19 rules ease

While Manitoba restaurants are finally seeing some light during the COVID-19 pandemic, not all of them will be willing or able to set tables for patrons as dine-in restrictions ease this weekend. 

The major problem: there may be no staff around to cook food, or serve and greet guests. 

That’s the case for Peter Truong’s Kyu Bistro — Truong says despite the dining area of his Isabel Street restaurant being closed for weeks now, getting enough staff to return by Saturday for a small number of potential customers is a challenge. 

The province is allowing restaurants and bars to reopen at 25 per cent capacity indoors and 50 per cent for outdoor dining as of 12:01 a.m. Saturday. 

“We’re not going to be open [for dine-in]. We’re just not prepared,” he told CBC on Thursday.

“There are a few [staff] that really need the income and want to come back, but there are a few that just want to relax and enjoy the summer while they can.”

Along with capacity restrictions limiting the amount of potential dine-in business, staff on duty also have extra responsibilities, Truong said.

Those include making sure the restaurant is sanitized and customers are screened to ensure public health orders are followed.

He said he would aim to reopen the bistro’s dining room during the first weekend of July.

Given the length of the pandemic, many staff from retail or food-service jobs have moved on to other things, said East India Company owner Sachit Mehra. 

Mehra, who is also a Manitoba Restaurant and Food Services Association board member, says drawing in staff at 25 per cent capacity may not be worthwhile for many businesses.

“If you have a smaller establishment [it] may just mean one table — and the ability to profit off of one table, it may not make sense anymore to run that,” Mehra said. 

Shaun Jeffrey, director of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association, says Manitoba restaurants have taken on an average of $89,00 in debt due to COVID-19. He wants to see more government recovery support. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

While he does plan to open his York Avenue eatery to dine-in patrons, he knows not every other restaurateur is able to do the same. 

Shaun Jeffrey, the director of the restaurant association, said Wednesday a recent member survey suggested only 32 per cent of restaurant staff plan to return to an industry he said already faced hiring challenges.

It’s another pandemic-related problem restaurants have faced, along with debt loads mounting to an average of $89,000 per restaurant, he said. 

Jeffrey said the Manitoba Restaurant and Food Services Association would like to see additional recovery support from government. It will take between five and eight years for a Manitoba restaurant to reach pre-COVID income levels, he said.

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