Restaurants large and small in the Tri-Cities are figuring out ways to welcome patrons with new social distancing protocols in the hopes of making people feel comfortable but safe.
It’s a tall order with Canadians cautious about easing restrictions and B.C.'s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has recently speculated that a second wave of the pandemic is bound to arrive at some point.
But at Earls in Port Coquitlam, diners are already visiting after the casual eatery opened on Tuesday, flocking to the patio and the dining area, where tables are separated at least two-metres apart and servers are wearing masks.
“We didn’t know how we felt, but we thought we’d come see what it’s like,” said Rachel Samson who visited the Port Coquitlam restaurant with her boyfriend Alex Stankiewicz to celebrate their one year together.
As B.C. implements Phase 2 of its pandemic recovery plan, restaurateurs in Port Moody, Port Coquitlam and Coquitlam told the Tri-City News they are hopeful people will return and are putting protocols in place to meet WorkPlace BC rules and ensure staff and customer safety.
From installing hand-washing sinks at store entrances to having patrons write down their own orders and, in some cases, pick up their own food, complying with Dr. Bonnie Henry’s orders is taking creativity and ingenuity, the managers and owners say.
But as they work to bring people back, they are putting on an optimistic face in a challenging situation.
“We are social people, that’s why we are in the restaurant business,” commented a manager at Browns Socialhouse in Coquitlam’s Town Centre, whose restaurant will open Tuesday, May 26, at 11 a.m.
With restaurants expected to be at 50% capacity with tables two metres apart and limits on group sizes, tables are being removed, and many bar stools and other seats are being closed off.
“For us it works,” commented Fred Soofi, owner of Pasta Polo, which will be opening June 1. "But you can’t have more than 50 (people) at a time.”
Customers will be asked asked to write down their orders, and in some cases may pick up their order from an empty table next to them. Soofi said he will be installing a touch-free sink where people can wash their hands before dining. He also hopes the city will allow him to expand his outdoor space.
Meanwhile at Romer’s in Port Moody, manager Tyler Schuster is renovating the patio to provide outdoor seating and preparing plans for a Monday, May 25, opening at 4 p.m.
“We’re going to try and make it fun but it’s going to feel a bit different here,” he said, noting that reservations are recommended, people can write down their food order and they’ll be called to pick it up at a staging area to minimize contact with servers.
“I think the people that are itching to get out are going to enjoy it, and I think there are also those a little bit cautious who won’t be itching to get out,” Schuster said.
Some restaurants are still in the planning stages: a server at the Cactus Club in Coquitlam said a notice will be posted on its website when it opens in a few weeks and the Keg in Coquitlam plans to open on Monday, May 25. A full re-opening safely document is also posted on its website.
Restaurants will also be asking customers to leave a contact number if possible in the event there is a need for contact tracing.
Soofi at Pasta Polo said he has privacy concerns but people could email the information to his restaurant, with time and date they visited if they like.
Other changes people can expect will be the removal of condiments from tables, people will likely be served ketchup, salt and pepper in other ways, such as individual packets.
“It’s a different world,” Soofi acknowledged.
— with files from Stefan Labbé