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It’s Been Over a Week Since Dining Rooms Reopened in Most of Quebec. Here’s How That’s Going

A round-up of restaurant news from the orange zone

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Is it even possible in 2021 to make predictions about what the future holds? Probably not. But when it comes to what Montreal’s eventual return to indoor dining will look like, the way things are being handled elsewhere in Quebec, where regions last week transitioned from red to orange on the province’s coronavirus alert ranking, could provide some clues.

On March 8, the provincial government allowed restaurants across most of Quebec (geographically speaking) to reopen, given that they abide by a series of government-stipulated rules, including mandatory reservations, the collection of patrons’ contact information, checking proof of residence to ensure diners aren’t travelling from riskier red zones, and limiting tables to household bubbles. Curfew in orange zones was also pushed back to 9:30 p.m.

From labour shortages causing opening delays to amended indoor dining regulations, see below for how Quebec’s restaurant reset has gone so far.

Demand among diners appears strong

Multiple reports document long queues forming outside of breakfast eateries in the capital and elsewhere in Quebec on the morning of March 8, when many regions jumped from red to orange on the province’s coronavirus alert system. While François Meunier, vice-president of the Association Restauration Quebec, told the Journal de Montréal that the reopening of dining rooms has made most people “very, very, very happy,” he warned that with reduced capacity and the absence of tourism, profitability is still a ways away.

Restaurants are struggling with labour shortages

The relatively abrupt news that more restaurants across Quebec would be permitted to reopen on March 8 left several business owners scrambling to hire and train new staff within five days. Social media and Emploi-Québec were alight with job postings, with several restaurants opting to delay the reopening they had desperately been waiting for. Kassandra Mainville, the co-owner of pizzeria Nina in Quebec City, told Radio-Canada that finding skilled labour was proving difficult, with many workers having reoriented their careers outside of the industry.

Indoor dining regulations have been revised

When the provincial government first announced that restaurants in orange zones would be permitted to reopen with restrictions, among them was a cap of two adults (plus however many minor children) allowed to be seated at a table. However, the Ministry of Health has since amended that rule to allow any number of adults living under the same roof to dine together. This means a group of three or more roommates and parents living with legal-aged children may now dine out together in certain parts of Quebec.

Cases are being linked to restaurant workers and customers

In Gatineau, a popular restaurant called The British has been forced to temporarily close its doors due to a COVID-19 outbreak among its employees. The exact number of associated cases has not been specified, but anyone who visited the restaurant from March 5 to 12 is being encouraged to be on the lookout for symptoms. Meanwhile, in the Bas-Saint-Laurent region, health officials are calling on people who went to two Rivière-du-Loup restaurants, Bon-Voyage and Normandin, to also get screened for COVID-19.

Restaurant workers still aren’t close to being vaccinated

As of March 16, just over 9 percent of Quebec’s population, representing approximately 77,500 people, have been vaccinated. In Montreal, vaccines are currently being administered to people ages 65 and up, whereas elsewhere in the province, it is 70 and up. With more than 30,000 doses dispensed on Saturday alone, the pace of the vaccine rollout is accelerating, and according to health minister Christian Dubé will continue to do so.

However, when exactly it will come time to vaccinate essential workers younger than 60 who do not have a chronic disease or a health issue that increases their risk of COVID‑19 complications, which presumably includes those working in restaurants, remains unclear. According to Quebec’s priority group list, it would seem that they’d fall in the ninth and penultimate group.