Barrie restaurants react to province lifting capacity limits

For restaurant owners like Ben Demiri, it's the news they've been waiting for.

"The reality is most food service businesses have to operate at close to capacity, at least 80 per cent utilization to make a decent profit," said Ben Demiri, owner of Danny's Fish and Chips in Barrie.

On Friday, Premier Doug Ford announced the province's plan to reopen Ontario, starting with lifting capacity restrictions on Oct. 25, in places where proof of vaccination is required. Including gyms, restaurants and bars, casinos and bingo halls.

At the same time, other settings will be allowed to lift capacity limits if they choose to opt-in and require proof of vaccination.

Demiri says while he's excited that every seat in his restaurant will be allowed to be filled as of Monday, his staffing levels remain a significant concern.

"You can open up the dining room to everyone who wants to come in, but if you don't have the wait staff and the back kitchen staff there at that time, it would be pointless," Demiri said.

Business operations manager at St. Louis Bar and Grill, Caroline Kopp, says staffing concerns are a problem felt industry-wide, leading to a rise in overhead costs.

"(There is) a lot of difficulty in getting our key signature items simply because our suppliers do not have enough people working in their warehouses or drivers to get those products to us," said business operations manager Caroline Kopp.

Last week, Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman sent an open letter to the premier demanding more support for businesses.

"I'm still concerned about things like the labour shortages that have emerged during COVID, and these sectors really haven't had a lot of extra help, but they've been the hardest hit," Lehman said.

While challenges remain, Kopp says the future looks brighter than it has in months.

"This whole industry is predicated on energy, and when you don't have anyone in your building, there is no energy, so to feel that excitement, especially if it's people in watching the game, it's going to be a wonderful, wonderful day," Kopp said.

Next to be lifted are capacity restrictions on nightclubs, wedding receptions and strip clubs on Nov. 15.