‘I’m exhausted’: Restaurants cautiously optimistic as Ontario set to allow indoor dining

The announcement of a reopening plan comes at a time when businesses are feeling defeated

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Ontario plans to loosen pandemic restrictions at the end of the month, but businesses remain uncertain about their future.


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The current round of restrictions was implemented on Jan. 5, 2022, adding capacity limits to retail settings, banning indoor dining, and reducing indoor and outdoor gathering limits.

Businesses already reeling from previous lockdown measures were forced to adjust to the new restrictions, frustrating and angering many.

“The sectors that were closed were the sectors that had been closed the longest in the previous three lockdowns,” said Ryan Mallough, senior director of provincial affairs for Ontario with the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses.

“We always go back to indoor dining, gyms, dance studios, and event spaces who’ve had a hard time in the last couple of years.”

But with the recent announcement that restrictions will gradually be lifted, Mallough said that businesses are feeling “a little more optimistic.”


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Starting Jan. 31, restaurants will be allowed to serve indoor dining at 50 per cent capacity, with the potential to remove capacity limits the following month. Still, many feel these provisions aren’t enough for businesses to recoup lost money and remain operating.

“I would say optimism is very guarded right now. There’s a lot of concern that operating at 50 per cent for three weeks is going to be difficult,” said Mallough.

Mallough said he feels that the provincial government has never been clear about what they are trying to achieve with lockdowns and restrictions. He said that these measures have made it difficult for business owners to plan for more than a few weeks at best, despite following all health and safety requirements.


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It’s a sentiment echoed by Firas Arafat, the co-owner and founder of Page One Coffee + Bar, a Toronto-based coffee shop.

“I’m feeling exhausted,” said Arafat. “Even now, talking about removing restrictions … we want to be excited, but (we are) not sure what that means.”

Page One Coffee + Bar sits near Ryerson University and Yonge-Dundas square. But without the usual traffic coming into his store, Arafat said his business has lost thousands of dollars.

Niki Tsrourounakis said she’s had to use her life savings to keep her restaurant running. As the owner of Cafe Neon, Tsrourounakis said the current restrictions dealt a blow to her business.

“I am at a very dire point. Any announcement of reopening is a good thing,” said Tsrourounakis, who isn’t ready to give up.


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Tsrourounakis said she would like to see the government provide quicker information on restrictions and lockdowns.

In a statement on Jan. 20, 2022, Rocco Rossi, president and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, said the government should come up with a more strategic and evidence-based plan to deal with future surges in COVID-19 cases.

“(The) government also needs to be transparent about the data behind restrictions. Businesses need to see modelling that justifies the nature and timing of response measures and how they are successfully mitigating the virus or alleviating pressure on our overwhelmed health-care system.”



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