SUNDRE — Several local establishments reported a noticeable bump in business in the week following the provincial government’s decision to lift the Restrictions Exemption Program.
“We have increased a lot in the restaurant and in the bar,” said Debbie McBean, one of the serving staff at Sundre Hotel Restaurant.
“Our dine-in, depending on the day, is really busy,” said McBean, who works daily in both the restaurant and tavern side of the establishment.
Lunch hours in particular have been very busy, she said, adding that the number of takeout orders seems to have dropped, but not by much.
“We actually might be looking for more staff because we are getting busier,” she told the Albertan on Thursday, Feb. 17.
Chris Vardas, owner of Original T’s Family Restaurant and Cedar’s Pub, also reported a noticeable increase of dine-in traffic.
“You can see the difference, for sure,” said Vardas, adding business for dine-in has bumped up about 20 per cent and that Valentine’s Day especially saw a surge.
“It was really busy. I think every restaurant benefited on Valentine’s Day,” he said, adding it was the first major holiday since restrictions were significantly alleviated.
“But it’s still not up to what we’ve lost,” he said, referring to pre-pandemic traffic.
“There’s a lot of people that are reluctant. So, it’ll take some time before everybody’s comfortable. They’ve been put through the ringer — there’s a lot of fear out there still,” he said. “But it’s a start.”
Over at Boondox Family Restaurant, which opened almost one year ago amid the unfolding pandemic, owner and chef Ravi Vithanage also said more people are coming out to enjoy the opportunity to sit down for dinner.
“We have more and more,” Vithanage said, adding he estimates a roughly 20-25 per cent boost for dine-in business.
“A lot of people are coming into eat instead of ordering takeout,” he said.
No mask mandate conflicts reported
While the mask mandate for students in schools was lifted as of Feb. 14, the health measure intended to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19 remains in place for businesses until March 1, provided hospitalization rates continue to decrease. Children aged 12 and under are no longer required to wear masks in any settings.
But despite recent protests with demonstrators demanding an immediate an to all mandates, local patrons have remained pleasant.
“Nobody’s arguing or talking about someone wearing a mask or not wearing a mask,” said Vithanage.
“Everybody’s very peaceful,” he said, adding there haven’t been any issues.
While some customers continue to don a mask, he said the majority no longer are.
At the Sundre Hotel Restaurant, McBean said the serving staff are still wearing masks. As per Alberta Health Services regulations, staff encourage customers to wear a face covering but don’t push the issue too hard, she said.
“Some of the customers that come in do wear a mask, some don’t,” she said, adding there hasn’t been any friction between the two, with everyone simply grateful to once again finally be able to either dine-in or sit at the bar for a drink.
“Everybody’s just been getting along. I haven’t seen any conflicts at all. Everybody is just thrilled to be out,” she said.
The situation seemed similar at Cedar’s Pub and Original T’s, where there are those who also choose to continue wearing a mask.
“Some people are still reluctant with that. They’re tired of that too, right. But one step at a time, and I understand,” said Vardas.
Regardless of a person’s individual choice, patrons have been respectful, he said.
“People are really good, they’re happy,” he said. “I think people are just happy to have the freedom to come out and have dinner, or have a date or a drink.”
Although restrictions have not yet all been lifted, the light at the end of tunnel seems to be getting brighter.
“We just all got to be patient,” said Vardas, longing for a level of normalcy to return.
“I’m excited that the division is starting to close now. No more segregation of different types of people — vaxxed versus the unvaxxed.”
While he agreed decisions that impact the public’s health should be made based on expert consensus, Vardas said more also needs to be done to find a balanced approach.
“You got to help the health professionals. But at some point, the health professionals also sometimes take it a little too far,” he said. “This is like a common ground. No one wants it forever. Who wants to be controlled forever, and who wants to be separated forever?”
And with many other countries and jurisdictions around the world slowly but surely lifting restrictions, he said Canada needs to follow suit.
“At the end of the day, our country’s got to come to the same point as everybody else,” he said. “You can’t stop businesses and people from making money and earning a living.”