ontario restaurants

Ontario restaurants want restrictions loosened after venues get to increase capacity

After an unimaginably tough 19 months, event venues in Ontario are now rejoicing thanks to the provincial government's recent decision to expand capacity limits to 100 per cent — that means upwards of 50,000 people at places like the Rogers Centre — across the industry.

As of Oct. 9, there will no longer be audience caps at concert halls, theatres, cinemas, film studios, sports venues and other such indoor and outdoor settings where proof of vaccination is required for entry.

Though this is a big win for a sector that suffered immense losses over the course of the health crisis and saw many business closures, establishments in another hard-hit industry are left wondering why they are still subject to such stringent restrictions this far into reopening.

Thousands of bars and restaurants in Ontario, unable to recover from our notoriously lengthy lockdowns, have been forced to close permanently, and those that remain are now calling for more supports, including but not limited to loosened health measures that would allow them to expand operations.

"We are having trouble understanding why the lifting of restrictions was not also applied to hospitality businesses and restaurants," a group of Toronto BIAs wrote in a letter to provincial leaders this week.

"The perception of the lifted restrictions for some select industries appear to highlight that big businesses are being favoured over small and medium sized ones."

The communication goes on to demand the removal of capacity limits in the sector, as well as additional financial grants for suffering businesses.

It also points out the very valid fact that guests at places like sporting venues are often sitting far closer to one another than at restaurants (not to mention they move around and yell, potentially maskless if consuming food and drink), and also that the same masking and proof of vaccination policies that apply at venues also apply in restaurants.

"These settings are challenging to manage in terms of distancing and compliance based on sheer quantities of guests. In contrast, restaurants can be more easily managed and controlled, [so] why do restrictions remain in these settings? ...Why is the restaurant industry being treated differently?" the organizations ask.

The entire province has been stalled in Step 3 of reopening — with some amendments, such as the eased regulations for venues — since July 16.

In this step, there are no longer hard limits on the number of patrons in indoor dining settings, but a physical distance of at least two metres must be able to be maintained between groups unless barriers are present, meaning that businesses have had to block off or spread out their seating.

Meanwhile, indoor food or drink establishments with dance facilities, such as nightclubs and restobars, are only permitted to fill to 25 per cent capacity or 250 people, whichever is less.

Hospitality stakeholders are expressing outrage across the board, with some even threatening civil disobedience if the rules aren't changed ASAP.

A member of Premier Doug Ford's team was due to meet with industry representatives to talk the issue over on Tuesday, but completely bailed on the obligation.

Lead photo by

Jeremy Gilbert

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