By: Steeve and Ewa Chwojko

Local restaurant owners are seeing red over red-zone restrictions that limit inside dining to ten patrons at a time.

They say that number is illogical, and they want it changed.

“Hospitality businesses can only allow ten people in, and that is totally ridiculous,” said Charlie Young, general manager of The Mansion House in Sutton. “How did they come up with the number ten? Why not a percentage of capacity?” he asked.

“There are places that can hold 200 people, and they are only allowed ten; that is five per cent capacity. Some places can only hold 20 people, and they are also allowed ten; that is 50 per cent capacity. It does not make any sense.”

The ten-patron limit is also making it difficult for some restaurants to take reservations.

“We are not taking reservations because if a reservation cancels or doesn’t show up, we lose,” said Becky Massey, front house manager at Lake Simcoe Arms in Jackson’s Point.

While takeout is one solution, most restaurant owners say it’s not enough to make up for the loss of inside dining, forcing them to lay off staff, one of their largest expenses.

“Of course, we have limited staff; most were laid off,” Massey said.

“Takeout has picked up a little. But it’s our regulars who keep us afloat now. Georgina is a community where everybody supports everybody, and we are very grateful for that.”

While the restaurant is closed on Christmas Day, Massey said regulars and non-regulars alike could purchase a delicious takeout turkey dinner on Christmas Eve.

In Keswick, the Symposium Café, which can accommodate up to 140 people, is one of Georgina’s largest restaurants and was hit hard by the red-zone restrictions.

Co-owner, Nishant Ramlal, offers an interesting alternative to the 10-patron limit.

“The limits should have been set by square feet, not as a fixed number. If we seat some guests in that corner,” he said, indicating the far end of the restaurant, “and some in this corner, it looks like we have the whole restaurant empty.”

Larger restaurants, like the Symposium Cafe, are finding it difficult to reduce expenses. You can’t heat just one corner of the room, or only switch on one light, or only pay a tenth of the insurance. It does not matter whether you have ten customers or one hundred; you still have the same expenses.

“There are fixed expenses – rent, Hydro, insurance, Enbridge – and we don’t have the option of switching completely to takeout; our business is mainly inside dining,” Ramlal said.

Has the Symposium Café kept its staff? “We have tried to keep as much staff as possible. Of course, shifts have to be reduced, but we shall need the staff when things start to pick back up. And we have a really good team,” he said.

The fine dining experience has also been impacted. The ten-patron limit has forced Alan and Vincenza Palenchuk, owners of the Corner Bistro in Keswick, to reduce their seating times so more patrons can dine each night.

“We provide ‘fine dining,’ and typically, the whole experience is to sit for a couple of hours,” Vincenza Palenchuk said.

“We have seating for 50, so with a maximum of 10 people, we are operating at 20 per cent capacity. We’ve had to develop seating times and only give people an hour and a half to sit there. Because the last call is at 9 p.m., my last seating is at 8:15 p.m. When it’s getting close to the last call, people want their alcohol, and we are lining it up on the table, and to me, that’s not fine dining.”

And like many of the other restaurants, they’ve also had to reduce their staff.

“We only have one server now because otherwise, none of the servers would be making money,” she said.

But a reservation is still a must if you want a table at the Corner House Bistro.

“We do fill up in advance a lot of times. But it has become very difficult because I have to prepare the tables for the next group, and I have to time it so that those coming in aren’t bumping into those who are leaving.”

The red-zone restrictions, and the uncertainty about the future, have impacted many of the local restaurant owners we spoke with.

The Christmas season, usually the busiest time of the year for local restaurants, will be difficult for everyone. Groups used to book well in advance, even a year early — try to book in September, and you would probably be too late. This year, the only thing that is coming in fast is the cancellations.

“When they are booking for 20 or 30 people, they don’t want to be choosing only 10 of their group and excluding the rest,” Palenchuk said.

We will leave you with another comment that was made by everyone: “We have a regular customer base, but we also get a lot of support from the community.”

The community, that’s us!

We should all try to get out regularly and spend an evening at one of the wonderful restaurants we have in Georgina. See you there, Bon Appetit!

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