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Quebec Orders Restaurants to Operate at 50 Percent Capacity; Bars Forced to Close

New data suggests that even though restaurants are still open, many people are avoiding them anyway


The Quebec government has imposed new measures to restrict the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Over the weekend, premier Francois Legault announced that bars and clubs across the province are required to close their doors until further notice — based on similar restrictions in other cities, it should be assumed that these establishments will be forced to stay closed for a matter of weeks, not days.

Restaurants are permitted to stay open, although they may only operate at 50 percent of their usual capacity, with Legault suggesting that only every second table be used.

It’s a rapid change from Friday, when all businesses were effectively allowed open, although gatherings of more than 250 people were banned. At that point, the majority of nightclubs in the city had announced that they planned to open, lowering their capacities to the 250 mark.

Il faut continuer de mettre toutes les chances de notre côté pour ralentir la contagion de la COVID-19. Aujourd’hui,...

Posted by François Legault on Sunday, March 15, 2020

Now, any establishment that falls into a generally recreational category may not open — beyond bars and clubs, this include cinemas, private gyms and other fitness centres (the city of Montreal already closed public centres last week). Sugar shacks and buffet restaurants are also required to close, all other restaurants may remain open.

Some restaurants have voluntarily gone further — notable names like Joe Beef and St-Henri restaurant Elena have opted to completely close down; some have started to offer take-out service or even completely switched entirely to offering only take-out. This would prevent customers from lingering inside restaurants, presumably lowering the chances of COVID-19 being transmitted between customers or staff.

The fact that some restaurants remain open does not mean that people are flocking to them — data provided by restaurant reservation service OpenTable shows an abrupt collapse in business across Montreal’s restaurants. When compared to the same dates in 2019, it seems that business started declining on March 8, when Montreal restaurants on OpenTable had 14 percent fewer customers than the same time last year. Then, much more drastic slowdowns hit on March 13 and 14, with business down 48 and 43 percent respectively.

OpenTable’s data included reservations made both on its system or by phone, and walk-ins. These declines are an average — individual restaurants may have seen varying levels of business, and many Montreal restaurants do not use OpenTable, so their sales are not included in this data.