Omicron offers more headaches for Alberta’s beleaguered restaurant industry
A The spike in COVID-19 cases caused by the highly transmissible variant of Omicron has caused another wave of uncertainty for Alberta’s hospitality industry.
For Sylvia Cheverie, owner of the French-Canadian restaurant Chartier in Beaumont, just south of Edmonton, the rise in COVID-19 cases among staff and customers has forced the difficult decision to stop eating indoors. .
“We have a very small team, we have a very complicated menu,” Cheverie said. “Losing, you know, even five or six members of the squad – because they have symptoms or have been diagnosed – that’s a big impact.”
The hospitality industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, with restrictions on indoor dining over the past 22 months.
Since September, Chartier has been one of several Alberta restaurants operating under the government’s restrictions exemption program, which allows them to offer indoor dining to customers with proof of vaccination, a negative COVID-19 test or a medical exemption.
Restaurants must also adhere to seating and capacity limits and must end alcohol service at 11 p.m.
“We have very diligent team members who maintain very high health standards and we have constantly adjusted our policies to ensure that we are not only meeting the (Alberta Health Services) requirements, but that we let’s outrun them,” Cheverie said.
But Omicron has made it nearly impossible for Chartier to continue operating as usual while its staff deal with illness and isolation requirements, she said.
“We cannot work from home,” Cheverie said, noting that the restaurant will continue to offer take-out service. “You can’t run a business, a restaurant business, from your home.”
Staffing shortages are one of many converging issues facing the industry, alongside public health restrictions and “operator fatigue,” according to James Rilett, vice president of Restaurants Canada.
The group’s “best estimate” is that 15% of restaurants in Canada have closed due to the pandemic.
“What we hear the most is just that [operators] need to take a mental health break,” Rilett told CBC Manitoba.
That rings true for Edmonton’s Paul Shufelt, who said each wave of COVID-19 has brought new waves of stress for restaurant owners and operators.
“It has a financial impact, but I think more than anything, it has an emotional impact on our people – our staff, customers in general, their level of anxiety and their safety to go out and dine,” said Shufelt, owner and chef at Robert Spencer Hospitality, which operates several restaurants in the Edmonton area.
On Wednesday, Northern Chicken announced the Twitter that it was suspending indoor dining until January 3 to protect its staff and the community.
Shufelt said he noticed a mixed reaction from diners during this Omicron wave.
“We’ve had clients who completely canceled events or even dinners, like absolutely at the last minute,” he said. “And then on the other side, we still have people clamoring to come over for lunch and dinner.”
Darren McGeown, owner of Arcadia Brewing Co., says he feels more hesitant to eat indoors.
“Everyone seems to be a little indifferent to her coming out right now,” McGeown said. “I feel like we’re going to be in a bad place here for a few weeks, and hopefully we can pull through.”
Maya Richmond, one of the owners of Edmonton’s Padmanadi restaurant, fears that the longer-term impact of Omicron will see more people leave the industry.
“A lot of people are running away from hospitality. They’re looking for something else to do because it’s so uncertain. It’s so unstable,” Richmond said.
“When this is all over, there will be no more staff to hire because no one wants to do this.”