SUNDRE — At least one local restaurateur is trying a different approach to entice patrons to dine-in at either of his two establishments.
Chris Vardas, who owns Original T’s Family Restaurant and Cedar’s Pub, recently introduced discounted rapid tests for people who have opted not to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
“What prompted it is business is slower,” Vardas said candidly during a phone interview.
Since the provincial government rolled out earlier this fall the Restrictions Exemption Program (REP) that requires patrons to present either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test, business “dramatically dropped,” he said.
Although many people had been fully vaccinated with paper records to prove it, he added some had not yet gotten around to obtaining the official card with the QR code.
“I have to come up with an innovative way that you’re allowed (to let unvaccinated patrons enter),” he said.
Drawing from his own experience going to for example conferences, malls, or functions, he said the REP offers the choice of presenting either the QR code or a negative result from a test within the last 72 hours.
“So, then I looked into it and got myself some rapid tests. It was the only way to keep everybody safe and treat everybody equal,” he said.
When Vardas spoke with The Albertan on Tuesday, Nov. 30, he had only just a few days prior introduced the rapid tests, but said there seemed to be a positive initial response.
“It’s starting to pick up a little bit. A lot of people are pretty excited over it,” he said. “It hasn’t filled up my restaurants yet, because it is too early.”
And there are also some patrons who remain unenthusiastic about the restrictions, he added.
“But all in all, it’s positive feedback,” he said. “I got to do something to keep our doors open, and I got to do something that’s fair to everybody — I’m trying not to segregate anybody.”
The $5 charge per rapid test is not to generate any revenue, but rather simply to recover the cost of the expense of purchasing them from a drugstore, he said, adding the results from the tests are valid only at his establishments and nowhere else.
The average price of a rapid test at area pharmacies is about $30.
Over at the Sundre Hotel Restaurant, which has been following the REP since the program was first announced by the provincial government, business has remained slower than pre-pandemic times. But patrons have been kind as well as understanding, and takeout has also been doing well, Elsie Garriott, acting manager, said on Wednesday, Dec. 1 during a phone interview.
“We’ve had wonderful customers that come in — nobody ever gives us a hassle,” Garriott said. “If we have to turn them away, they’ve turned and walked away and we’ve just about cried doing it.”
Now a retired senior on her pension, she refuses to accept a wage and finds purpose in volunteering to help the restaurant’s owners keep the doors open and get through the challenging circumstances.
“I don’t want to be on the payroll, because I am a senior and I don’t need it,” she said. “It’s saving my life, it’s giving me something to do.”
Although the restaurant’s hours remain largely the same as always, a Friday breakfast that used to be offered was changed with the doors now opening later at 11 a.m., she said.
“Naturally, we’re quite a bit slower than what we have been in the past. Business has dropped, not as many people can come in of course. Not everybody’s vaccinated,” she said.
Further throwing a wrench into the proverbial gears, she added, has been a glitch they’ve experienced whereby people’s vaccination cards with the QR codes won’t scan as valid.
“We are having a few problems right now,” she said, adding she understood the government is aware of the issue and attempting to resolve it.
“So, we’ve been really on the fence not knowing what to do with that (in the meantime),” she said. “But other than that, we haven’t had any problems.”
Garriott expressed gratitude to everybody who comes in and supports the restaurant, which on Dec. 18 will be doing a fundraiser for Sundre Santas.
“We love the people that come in, and we’d love to see more. But we’re accepting anything we can get right now,” she said.
“And I have such a good staff here that follow the rules and are very good, and people just appreciate it. We’ve been totally amazed at how wonderful the people are” and how accepting they’ve been, she said.
“There’s not much else you can do except accept the rules that the government gives you, and they understand that we are following them.”