Thursday December 31, 2020 | VICTORIA, BC [Updated section in blue: 4:35 pm December 31, 2020]
by Mary P Brooke, editor | Island Social Trends
“Restaurants in BC wanted to try to put on a decent and safe New Year’s Eve dinner and try to recover some of the revenue that’s been lost over the last couple of months,” says BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association president Ian Tostenson.
In an exclusive phone interview today with Island Social Trends, Tostenson said what he heard from restaurants yesterday was disbelief. “First of all they thought this was a joke. We have had several phone calls—’you’re kidding me’. They were not very happy.”
This is in response to a Public Health Officer’s (PHO) order announced yesterday at 3 pm that puts the kibosh on alcohol-related activities for New Year’s Eve during the pandemic, as a way to limit the too-close social interactions that lead to transmission of the COVID-19 virus. “Especially in light of the U.K. variant now appearing in BC, we must do all we can to limit the spread of COVID-19 in our communities,” it was stated in the December 30 release from BC Health yesterday afternoon.
The selling and serving of alcohol must cease between 8 pm (Pacific time) today Thursday December 31, 2020, and not commence again until 9 am on January 1, 2021.
Then liquor sales for onsite consumption will revert to the primary order which states that alcohol sales must cease at 10 pm.
UPDATE 4:35 pm December 31, 2020: Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry said during her COVID media presentation today that she doesn’t see how two hours makes a lot of difference to the success of the evening for restaurants or patrons. She said she feels there was plenty of suggestion as to the curtailment of New Year’s Eve being likely, given how things have been going with COVID case numbers and her orders against gatherings (other than household) around Chrsitmas time. She suggested that people could reschedule their New Year’s Eve dinner to another day, but did not seem to thoroughly acknowledge the business-management impacts (including inventory investment and last-minute changes to staffing).
Dr Henry said today that she did ‘consult’ with restaurants (before making her decision), but it sounds like it was a hand-picked list (with specific questions in mind, such as timing of reservations) and seems to have circumvented more coordinated discussions with groups such as the BCRFA.
Confusion and chaos on the front lines:
“Now there’s just a lot of things that people don’t know – they’re just trying to figure out the rules,” said Tostenson. Such as alcohol being off the table at 9 pm. Can people order at 7:59 pm? “The details of this that have got people confused. Everybody wants to do the right thing, but they’re very unclear about what they’ve been told, and how it fits into their operation.”
“The disappointing part of this is that we could have been part of the decision earlier, and we would have made way different preparations for New Year’s and putting health first. The industry has always put health first,” says Tostenson.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty and a little bit of sadness,” he added, regarding restaurants who “wanted to try to put on a decent and safe New Year’s Eve dinner and try to recover some of the revenue that’s been lost over the last couple of months.” Restaurants and other foodservice operators have invested in food, alcohol, party favours and staffing. Now there could be losses on many levels in terms of inventory and earnings for staff.
Timing of the decision:
“Dr Henry said that she’d been thinking about this for a while. It wasn’t last minute,” says Tostenson, who surmises that Dr Henry “has been driven by numbers (stats) that we’re not privy to”.
“We reached out not to Dr Henry directly but to the Coastal Health Authorities and WorkSafe back in October, and said we should be thinking about Christmas and New Years’ and putting some things in place and start to talk about it now.,” the BCRFA president said today. “But we didn’t get any response back.”
“We had the opportunity to have this conversation with Dr Henry and her group two or three weeks ago. We could have prepared the industry 100 percent. And it wouldn’t have been an issue. We would have told all our guests and we would have been booking changes to reservations and not have to change reservations,” Tostenson said today.
“I realize everybody’s busy, but it’s not like we didn’t know new year’s was coming. We could have done a better job, all of us, to prepare the industry. And people. People made their plans tonight, that are (now) changing. It just frustrates everybody. We didn’t have to be in this situation,” said Tostenson on behalf of his organization’s membership.
The BCRFA calls themselves, to their members: “your voice to the government, your source for real-time information about key issues facing your business and your resource for excellent value and cost savings.”
At the beginning of this short year-end work week (statutory holiday on Monday December 28 and New Year’s Day on January 1), Health Minister Adrian Dix announced two live media teleconferences about COVID-19 for this week — one on Tuesday December 29 where he mentioned the next live teleconference would be on Thursday December 31.
There was no mention on Tuesday (other than that ‘there would be a written statement’) for Wednesday December 30. The email advisory to media came around 1:40 pm same-day on December 30 for a 3 pm media call, which caught most media off guard. Media do remain attentive, but it doesn’t do the public a great service to try and do an end-run around the professional media sector.
Who did public health not trust ahead of time? The restaurants to get it right, the patrons to follow the rules, and/or the media to report this responsibly.
All of this lends itself to being either a last-minute decision or a deliberate attempt to not have people pre-planning around the rules for New Year’s Eve (had there been more notice). While everyone wants to cooperate, the timing of this announcement presents questions as to professionalism of the communications message out of government. It’s one thing to be strategic, it’s another to attempt to be as tricky as the potential COVID-rule-breakers that this last-minute announcement may have been attempting to circumvent.
Details of the order for restaurants, bars and grocery stores:
“This order applies to any establishment that sells or serves alcohol, including bars, restaurants, pubs, liquor stores or grocery stores. Unless a full meal service is provided, premises that are licensed to serve liquor must close between 9 pm on December 31, 2020 and 9 am on January 1, 2021,” it is stated by BC Health.
“We know alcohol can impair people’s judgment and their ability to effectively use the layers of protection required to keep all of us safe. This order, while temporary, will ensure New Year’s Eve leads to a safe new year for everyone,” it was stated in the Ministry of Health release.
“We recognize this order creates an added strain on our already challenged restaurant and food services sector that has been working hard to ensure restaurants are safe. However, this is the time to do all we can to keep our wall strong. We remain confident that having a meal with your household contacts in a restaurant in BC is safe, and we encourage people to continue to visit their local restaurants to eat in or take away on New Year’s Eve.”
“This is our last chance to make a difference this year. We recognize the sacrifices you have all made and we thank you for continuing to do your part,” it was stated in the release by Dr Henry.
“In addition to this order, the industrial workplace order announced last week has been posted on the PHO website:
No comment from restaurants:
Today Island Social Trends inquired with a few local restaurants and some of the larger chains. All were reluctant to make any sort of official comment about the impact of this order on their business.