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Restaurants grapple with reopening under new regulations

Some food establishments allowing for dine-in with social distancing in mind
Two Sisters is trying out a soft opening this week. (Marisca Bakker photo)

Restaurants have now been permitted to welcome dine-in patrons in B.C., but some in Smithers are choosing to take their time before serving customers inside their doors.

Some of the guidelines outlined by Worksafe BC to allow for dine-in service during the pandemic are making it tricky for certain local food establishments to open.

There must be two metres between tables, factoring in space for seats at the table and there can’t be more than six people at one table.

Telly’s Grill has decided not to open up right away for dine-in. They will be taking it week by week and if they feel the demand is there, then they will open while following Worksafe BC’s guidelines.

Blue Water Sushi is also in the same boat and hasn’t decided on a reopening day for dine-in.

Roadhouse Smithers is hoping to reopen in June.

“We have not yet made a plan; we are working on it,” said one of the owners of the Roadhouse Moe Kafer. “There’s a lot of information out there and what is going to work out best for us and the safety of our staff and customers.”

She added they are lucky because they have quite a big space and it is separated into different areas to allow for social distancing but are now looking into creating some patio space.

Like most restaurants in Smithers, Roadhouse has been offering takeout since the pandemic closed their doors.

“It has been keeping some of our staff working but it isn’t our business model and there is no way we survive just doing that.”

She added they are eager to see customers in their restaurant again.

Meanwhile, Two Sisters Cafe is trying a soft opening this week. Owner Christine Blair said they want to take it slow and get it right.

“Our first priority is the safety of our staff and guests. If they don’t feel safe, we might as well just call it quits now,” she said. “The biggest one for us, as a fast-casual restaurant, will be directing the flow of traffic. People are used to coming in and lining up to the door, and this can’t happen anymore. Our business was designed to bring people together with our long tables and communal-style dining, and now we’re being asked to keep people apart. It’s a tough one. We are a very community-minded cafe, and guests are often meandering in and out, socializing with one another, particularly this time of year, and we now have to prevent that from happening.”

She added keeping people apart will be hard for their staff and their guests as this type of interaction is what they’re all about.

There are now plexiglass barriers, hand sanitizers placed at the entrance and exit and the tables have been spread apart. The cafe also has a patio and will be adding more outdoor space around the perimeter of the building.

Blair is hoping customers take advantage of their mobile app.

“Our mobile app allows guests to place their order on their smartphones, set a time to pick it up, and prepay,” she said. “We will have a specific area set up outside for those customers and for all other to-go orders. This will help reduce congestion within our walls.”

There are also stringent new cleaning schedules posted for staff to follow, and new policies and procedures, including the use of a no-contact, instant-read thermometer. All staff will be checked as they enter the door, and anyone with an elevated temperature will be asked to go home.

Blair added it has been hard the last couple of months being closed and wondering how it would all look when they were able to reopen.

“It was slow going at first, but people are definitely responding to us being back. We’re so happy to see familiar faces again, and many new ones, too.”

She is being cautiously optimistic about the future.

“I definitely worry about the future of our business and those of other small businesses,” she added. “I think the summer will be okay, as people are excited to be out & about once again. But with the inevitable second wave on the horizon, the fall and winter could bring more challenges. Hopefully we won’t have to close again. I think if we do this right, as individuals, and as a collective, Smithers will pull through. I have faith that we’ll see the other side of this thing and be stronger because of it!”

Marisca Bakker

About the Author: Marisca Bakker

Marisca was born and raised in Ontario and moved to Smithers almost ten years ago on a one-year contract.
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