It was ‘weird’ to see stalls full again, restaurant manager says

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The lifting of capacity restrictions at Ontario restaurants, bars and gyms on Monday was cause for celebration, but some local operators also said the effects of COVID-19 may linger and losses could take years to catch up.

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“I’ve been waiting for this one for 18 months! Debbie Seifried, owner of the Rockford Family restaurant, said. The provincial announcement on Friday allowed him to use all 16 tables, returning seven to service.

She survived COVID-19 with her patio, take-out service and loyal community patronage, she said. “Business has been excellent.”

“It only hurt me when we were closed,” which she said was the first two months of the pandemic. “There are still a lot of people who don’t want to go to restaurants that still do take-out, plus they’re not vaccinated either.”

Other health protocols remain, including proof of full vaccination and masking when not eating, drinking or actively training, local businesspeople said.

Other places where proof of vaccination is required and capacity limits have been lifted include indoor areas of sports and recreation facilities, casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments, and meeting spaces and indoor events.

Other places allowed to lift capacity limits included museums and galleries, religious services, tour and guide services, and personal care services like hair salons, salons and tattoo parlours.

At East Side Mario’s in Owen Sound, all booths in the restaurant were available, as well as all seats in the bar. “It was weird to see people sitting in all of our booths because it hadn’t happened in 20 months,” general manager Sean Floyd admitted.

The restaurant went from 18 to 40 tables open on Monday. But staff shortages will limit activities to around 75% capacity, he said. “We’re very happy to have this opportunity,” he said, “But like everyone else, we just don’t have the staff to pack the place.”

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On Monday, he answered five calls from hockey teams looking for tables for 50 people at a Silver Stick tournament in a matter of weeks. He had to turn them down due to limited staff, Floyd said.

And it will take four or five years to recover the money the restaurant has lost due to the pandemic, he said. “If it hadn’t been for the government programs, we would all have closed our doors a year ago.”

The patio, a tent and takeaways also helped keep things going, he said. Like Seifried, Floyd said some people are hesitant to eat inside restaurants, and those who eat inside sometimes ask to be moved to a booth farther away from other diners.

At the Durham Fitness Center in West Grey, the removal of capacity limits won’t change much as memberships have fallen to a third of pre-COVID-19 levels, so there has been ample room in the gym for some time. time, said Dan Sullivan.

He is President and CEO of the non-profit fitness center, run on behalf of West Grey, in Durham. The center rents municipal premises and uses volunteers to run courses.

“I’m not sure at this point what it will do in terms of bringing more people into the facility,” Sullivan said of the move to full capacity. “Hopefully with the changes it builds confidence . . . in people using gyms; that it’s safe to come back to the gym and train.

“A lot of people still seem to have a phobia of being in the gym. . . .

But Sullivan noted “with this vaccine passport, we have seen quite a few people come back after a year and a half. So I think that did more to reassure people.

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Gym members must show that they are double vaccinated on initial visits, and then their status is recorded in a register. The fitness center continues to require masks, but not during active training, and people still need to log in.

Disinfection has been improved by using an electrostatic spray gun, which puts a static charge on the disinfectant spray so that it wraps around surfaces, and it keeps going, Sullivan said. The showers and sauna were closed for a while, but reopened in August.

On Monday, Sullivan was still seeking clarification on whether physical distancing requirements could be waived by provincial ordinance. Gym equipment has been rearranged during the pandemic to allow for distancing.

The size of fitness classes has been reduced due to capacity limits, from around 12 to a maximum of eight. But regardless of provincial capacity limits, Sullivan said, “I believe we are maintaining physical distancing. I don’t think people are ready for a change on that yet.

Finding staff continues to be a problem, Sullivan said. A help wanted sign has been on the door for a year.

Similarly, in Port Elgin, increasing capacity limits might not have much effect, Jesse Topp said. “What this means to us is that it’s one more step towards the ultimate goal of our entire community, which is to get through this (pandemic) safely,” Topp said.

Jesse and Sara Topp run two fitness centers in Port Elgin – Saugeen Shores Fitness, a gym for cross-fit classes, and Topp Performance, with a martial arts gym, personal training gym and open gym Round the clock.

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They have adapted the cross-fit fitness center to capacity limits by splitting the large 60-minute classes into two smaller 30-minute group classes and he wants to keep them regardless of capacity limits. Enhanced cleaning has also become standard.

While capacity limits were reduced to 50% based on his gym’s fire department rated capacity, his other gyms were still large enough to allow distancing for the numbers using them, Topp said.

“As things changed, we had to change with this,” Topp said. “When we found the ability. . . to change inside the pandemic, business was fine. If we didn’t change, business wasn’t going well.

He credited his team of around 20 employees with getting the company through the pandemic so far, most of whom have stayed.

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