Local businesses were forced to adapt to an earlier than usual cutoff time
Few industries have been harder hit by COVID-19 than the restaurant industry, which has been forced to cope with closures in the spring, dramatic reductions in seating capacity, as well as a general reluctance to dine out during this trying time.
That perhaps is why the province’s decision to make a last-minute change to liquor sales on New Year’s Eve was met with such opposition by industry groups, with the executive director of B.C.’s Alliance of Beverage Licensees going so far as to call it “staggeringly stupid.”
Announced on Dec. 30, the provincial order required businesses to stop serving liquor at 8 p.m., as opposed to the 10 p.m cut off that was previously implemented during pandemic.
Opposition appeared to be as much about the timing (or lack thereof) of the announcement, as it was about the actual change.
Here in Sun Peaks, there was an impact on the restaurant industry, though the businesses that Sun Peaks Independent News spoke to said they were able to adapt.
Marty Ciesiolka, who co-owns the Magic Cattle Guard and manages 5Forty Cafe & Grill, said he was in the process of unloading a liquor order when he learned of the new order.
“I bought a bunch of extra booze that we couldn’t sell. And also, and also the staffing was an issue, too…I had a bunch of extra staff on,” he said.
Ciesiolka said while both the Magic Cattle Guard and 5Forty appreciate and have worked hard to implement COVID-19 safety measures, the timing of the announcement was problematic.
“Having a 24 hours notice was a real kick in the gut,” he said.
Overall, Ciesiolka said that 5Forty was down about 80 per cent in sales on New Year’s when compared to two years ago.
In 2019 the holiday resulted in another unexpected surprise for local businesses when a power outage put an end to service resulting in a major loss in revenue for local establishments.
Kevin Tessier, owner of Voyageur Bistro, said the cancellation didn’t have an enormous impact on the bottom line. Operating a sit-down restaurant, Tessier was able to phone guests directly and ask them to come in early.
Tessier said he didn’t understand the logic of the change, saying that restaurants offer a relatively safe place for people to spend time in comparison to private homes.
“If you go elsewhere, to a private establishment, I’m sure the host is not being a police officer, and saying, ‘sit down. No, don’t mingle,'” he said. “At least if they’re in a restaurant, they’re being told these things, right? And sort of policed a little bit.”
Tessier added his restaurant saw around 35-40 customers, compared to about 120 in years past. This was largely do to reduced seating requirements, he explained.
Nathan Cross, general manager and co-owner of Bottoms Bar & Grill, said the 8 p.m. cutoff had an impact on business, but that Bottoms was able to adapt by holding the (physically distanced) festivities it planned earlier in the day. Bottoms offered beef tartar, charcuterie and champagne to patrons.
“We’d ordered a few products that were specific to that night, but it was relatively easy for us to pivot and try to turn it into an afternoon thing,” said Cross.
The province’s move definitely caught the eye of local MLA Peter Milobar, who tweeted about the decision. “And once again @jjhorgan is nowhere to be found,” wrote Milobar on Dec. 30.
“Time for the Premier to step up and explain why these decisions that hurt so many workers and small businesses are being made, just showing up for feel good photo ops isn’t good enough in a Pandemic!.”
In an interview with Sun Peaks Independent News, Milobar said New Year’s represents an important economic opportunity for small businesses and that restaurants have done a good job of implementing new safety protocol
“New Year’s is a bit of a unique niche in the restaurant industry in that many restaurants have specialty menus and fixed menus,” he said. “A lot of specialty food products get ordered, based on reservations that have already been made.”
The late decision caused a “whole lot of uncertainty” and angst among restaurateurs, he said.
Milobar said the consensus among restaurant owners he was in communication with was one of disappointment.
“And, you know the number one thing they were all saying was that if we had we known about this a week or two in advance, we would have attacked new year’s eve differently in the first place.”