B.C. restaurants can officially welcome guests back indoors as of Tuesday, May 25 and from here on out under the province's just-revealed "Restart" plan that addresses the last phases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The four-phase plan's first phase goes into effect immediately and confirms that the "circuit breaker" restrictions that went into place in late March are indeed expired as of Tuesday, which means for restaurants a return to indoor dining.
With 60 per cent of British Columbia's population having received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, the first "Restart" threshold has been met in the plan, for which each phase depends on provincial vaccination rates and a continued decline in case count.
Effective immediately, restaurants can welcome guests for indoor and outdoor dining for tables of up to six guests with safety protocols in place.
Of note, those six people do not have to be from the same household, which means you can get together with friends, families, and colleagues at restaurants.
Those safety protocols include physical distancing, mask-wearing, and contact tracing, as well as the capacity limits previously approved by WorkSafeBC for each restaurant.
In fact, the WorkSafeBC-approved safety plans that were in place ahead of the March 29 ban on indoor dining are once again in place for all B.C. restaurants.
What's to come in each Phase of the restart plan
While liquor service will be available until 10 p.m. now, once B.C. moves into Phase 2, liquor service will be extended until midnight.
The earliest date B.C. will move into Phase 2 is June 15; at that point the province must be at 65% of population with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine adminstered and a continued decline in case count and hospitalization.
While masks will still be mandatory for indoor public spaces, when we reach Phase 2 is when banquet halls in the province will be able to re-open with safety protocols in place. At this stage, as well, there will be consultations within the sector on what further changes would look like as restrictions lift.
Phase 3, which needs a vaccination rate of 70 per cent province-wide as well as a continued decline in case counts and hospitalizations, is when the six-person limit on tables at restaurants will be lifted. The earliest this will happen in B.C. is July 1, and new safety plans for restaurants will be in place.
Those new safety plans will carry through into the fourth and final phase, which requires more than 70 per cent of our provincial residents to be vaccinated and which will begin no sooner than September 7.
"We have been on a long and tiring journey, and now we can start to chart our path forward to brighter days ahead," says Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.͛s provincial health officer.
Not all restaurants may be ready to go immediately
While restaurant owners, operators, and staff are learning Tuesday what they are now permitted to do, not all the province's foodservice businesses may be ready to open their doors right away.
Restaurants will need time to restock food and liquor, and hire and retrain staff since many have left the industry, Ian Tostenson, president of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association, told the Times Colonist ahead of Tuesday's announcement. “We are going to be faced with a shortage of labour both in the front of the house and the back of the house, so that’s going to take a while to sort that out.” Some restaurants may choose to curtail hours or limit menu items as they ramp up staffing, he said.
“So it’s going take us a while to get back, but we will get back, but it is going to be a gradual climb,” said Tostenson.
"Today's update from the Province in British Columbia was positive and confirmed our move forward," notes the BCRFA in an industry newsletter issued Tuesday afternoon. "The Province did note that we must continue to follow COVID-19 protocols, continue with people getting out and getting their vaccinations in order to prevent reversing the work that the province has been doing."