B.C. restaurants caught off guard by changes to patio dining guidelines

Graham Hafey modified the U.S. Marine Corps tent that covers Black Hops Brewing’s outdoor dining area Friday after an inspector from the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch (LCRB) said he was not complying with the province’s new COVID-19 safety regulations.

“So I said to him very politely, ‘You can’t be made to enforce something if we don’t actually know it exists,’” said Hafey, owner of V2V Black Hops Brewing.

A week ago, new guidelines for patio dining were introduced, with the goal of increasing airflow. The restaurant industry says it wasn’t adequately informed of the changes.

“Last Saturday, we started seeing health inspectors and liquor inspectors going to businesses and saying, ‘You know what, you’re out of spec,’ or, ‘This is the new regulation,’” said Ian Tostenson, president of the BC Restaurant and Food Services Association. “Then businesses were going, ‘What are you talking about?’”

Hafey says he is willing to make changes to his tent. He doesn’t have a problem with that. What he does have a problem with is how the province communicated these new changes to his industry.

“If they want us to adhere to health orders, then they need to get them out and then enforce them,” said Hafey. “They’ve sent people around and it should not be with any sort of threatening tones of fines and shutdowns.”

Asked about the situation Friday, the office of B.C.’s Solicitor General issued a statement to CTV News.

“Government, in conjunction with industry, has developed a guidance document for outside dining spaces,” the office said. “LCRB inspectors are using this document to guide their interpretation and application of outside dining spaces to ensure enforcement decisions are consistent with industry understanding.”

The statement goes on to say that LCRB inspectors “are always available to help licensees and work with them to help them understand.”

The BC Restaurant and Food Services Association says the new guidelines around how much airflow is required are too hard to understand.

“Now, we’re having inspectors that are being very prescriptive,” said Tostenson. “We’re having inspectors that are being very inconsistent because they don’t understand the regulations as well either.”

He called the new rules “very technical.”

The BCRFA has now submitted recommendations to the provincial health officer, asking for changes to the complicated guidelines that would mimic what Washington State is doing.

“Washington state has made it very clear and has acknowledged different types of restaurants,” said Tostenson.

They are also using CO2 detectors on patios to determine the level of carbon-dioxide in the air.

Hafey understands the province’s reasoning for changes to his industry, but he would like to see the province communicate those changes a little better.

“They’re trying to change with it, I understand that, but they have to do it in a way that gives us a little bit of time to react to it,” said Hafey.