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Stage Two sees boosts for Oakville restaurants

Stage 2 restaurants
Stage Two sees boosts for Oakville restaurants
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Thomas Desormeaux

Thomas Desormeaux

Thomas Desormeaux is a reporter and writer who lives close to the border of Oakville and Mississauga. He has lived in the GTA for his entire life and is interested in global events, politics and government. follow on twitter @TommyDesormeaux

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Oakville entered Stage Two of the provincial COVID-19 recovery plan last Friday and for the hospitality industry and it couldn’t have come soon enough. New data shows that restaurants and bars experienced a crucial spike in business over the past month.

Data from an analysis, recently released by the market research company Zenreach, shows that foot traffic in Canadian restaurants and bars increased around 32% from May to June. This corresponds with emergency COVID-19 measures being relaxed across the country and, last Friday, in Halton.

The hospitality industry has been impacted to a staggering degree by the pandemic shutdowns. Many food and drink places were forced to close their doors or convert all business to delivery, takeout or curb-side pickup.

 

This is especially distressing in Oakville, a Town that prides itself on its bustling independent restaurant scene.

 

Halton entering Stage Two means that bars and restaurants in Oakville can now serve customers on outdoor patios. According to Maureen Healey, Executive Director of the Bronte Business Improvement Association. Oakville has received more than 60 new patio applications over the past month.

Big opening weekend

The Bronte BIA is part of Oakville’s Economic Task Force, which is designed to help the Town make decisions that will help businesses better survive during the pandemic. The Task Force was behind the Town’s decision to eliminate fees from patio applications earlier this month.

 

“There was a lot of buzz in the neighbourhood when it was announced patios would begin to open,” Healey says. This past week has been the first improvement for the hospitality industry this spring. “On Friday, it was like someone turned the tap on.”

From April to May, more economies across Canada began opening back up. This caused employment to rebound by 1.8%, including over 40,000 jobs in accommodation and food services.

Julia Hanna, owner of the Oakville Italian restaurant Ritorno, said that this past weekend was “wonderfully busy” on their outside patio.

“You know, sometimes with patios the challenge is that you are restricted by weather,” Hanna says. “You know people really missed being out and being together when they were very happy to sit out, even when it was so incredibly hot this weekend.”

Hanna says that in her 35 years working in restaurants, she has never seen as much gnocchi sell as she served this weekend.

Good first step

This is all encouraging news, but Stage Two won’t completely restore customer numbers any time soon.

According to Healey, only about 60% of Bronte restaurants will be able to use patios. There are increased costs associated with building an outside serving area. There are also physical distancing rules about how many customers can be served at one time.

“Right now we’ll be seeing about 50% of the revenue we’d get when we were open before,” Julia Hanna says. “So not only is it 50% but you have to think of social distancing. You may usually have the space to put a table of six somewhere. But now, we can’t put anyone there because that won’t be far enough away from other tables.”

Patios won’t solve everything, restaurants and bars will need to continue to develop new ways of reaching customers, while at the same time, abiding by safety guidelines.

Stage 2 restaurants

“We’ve got to step up. The government’s go to step up and continue to look at the hospitality industry,” Hanna says. “Not to minimize the impact COVID has had on other industries, but restaurants and bars are unique in the way that COVID challenges every aspect business.”

 

 

New ways of doing business

As well as reinvigorating menus and finding new ways to serve food, Hanna believes the way business is done will have to change in the wake of COVID-19. The future of Oakville restaurants must lead to a new understanding of business relationships. This applies to interactions with customers as well as those between tenants and landlords.

According to Healey, restauranteurs operating patios according to government safety measures will need cooperation from their customers during Stage Two. It’s a two-way street.

“Part of what we’re doing for the Task Force is a new marketing campaign that says ‘welcome back, shop local, stay safe.’ Part of that will be that everything is a shared responsibility,” Healey says. “So, as much as a restaurant has to jump through hoops making sure they follow every guideline, people coming in share the responsibility. We can’t just rely on the business or the restaurant to carry the burden of responsibility, it’s shared between customer and operator.”

Hanna, too, thinks that the future business climate will need cooperation to be successful. Pointing to CECRA as an example, she believes it’s an issue that many landlords are choosing not to sign up and, therefore, offer relief to tenants. In her view, this is one way that the government needs to do more.

“Nobody wants to lose, whether it’s in rent or revenue. But in order to save an industry, everybody has to step up and say ‘let’s all give a little bit and we can get through this together’ ,” she says.

“The restaurant industry needs that. You are not just a tenant, you are in a partnership with your landlord. If we think about these relationships as partnerships then, down the road, it will be worth it. Then we can all win,” she says.

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