'There is going to be more casualties': Alberta restaurants look for more relaxed rules in Step 2

Alberta restaurants are looking for more relaxed rules when the province enters Step 2 of its relaunch plan, including who can eat together in restaurants and extending the current curfew.

The Alberta Hospitality Association (AHA) meets with government officials weekly to consult but say a meeting Thursday is crucial to address their concerns before the province rolls out the next phase.

Among the requests is allowing more people to dine together in restaurants and allowing establishments to stay open past 11 p.m.

“When working with government we made it clear that opening up with same family household and the curfew was going to put restaurants into duress right away,” says AHA president Ernie Tsu.

“It’s great to be open, make no mistake, it’s great to see our staff working again and mental health getting stronger through this, but our hope is to work though those two components for Stage 2.”

Tsu says relaxing the rules currently in place, including that only members of an immediate household can eat together, is crucial for downtown businesses who rely on work cohorts.

“In Alberta we have to keep in mind the restaurant industry employed, you know, going into the second lock down, we employed 153,000 jobs across the province," he said.

"It’s dire. We’re going to see more restaurants close unless we can get a little more movement on some of the restrictions for Stage 2.”

Also on the meeting’s agenda is requesting rules around live music in venues is relaxed similar to regulations seen in the fall that included seated shows, proper social distancing between tables and single acoustic performers.

Earlier this month the province announced $120 million in support for those hard hit by COVID-19 that breaks down to up to $10,000 per small or medium-sized business.

Tsu says while that is helpful, it likely won’t be available until April and hopes Thursday’s meeting will also address additional financial supports.

“We’d like to see that parallel with Ontario where they’ve rebated 100 per cent of utilities as well as commercial property tax throughout the whole second lockdown," he said.

"There is going to be more casualties and we don’t want to see more restaurants closing as time goes on.”

Tsu adds unlike step one of the relaunch plan, restaurants and others in the hospitality sector don’t need a lot of notice to enter Stage 2 because they are already for the most part open.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, has said the earliest restrictions could be ease is March 1, which is when the province is expected to provide an update on Stage 2 of the relaunch plan.