COVID-19 – No holiday cheer for Montreal restaurants in red zones

Montreal restaurants in red zones

Just last week Quebec was proposing a ”moral contract” with Quebecers that would allow them to enjoy the holidays at home with their families and friends. Premier François Legault gave the green light for up to 10 people to get together in private homes between Dec. 24 – Dec. 27. The premier was asking people to stick to one or two gatherings during the four-day window and to isolate for a week before and after if possible. Anyone with COVID symptoms is advised to stay away and no New Year’s parties will be allowed. Legault made the announcement despite previous warnings that Christmas celebrations might be cancelled this year due to the pandemic. At the time he said that his own family was important to him and this factored into his decision to allow gatherings at home. This just in: Legault says that if the number of cases goes up too much he won’t allow any holiday gatherings. 

Québec Premier François Legault

Last week’s announcment was welcome news for many who hadn’t seen their loved ones since before the lockdown began in March. However, there will be no stocking stuffers on Christmas Eve for restaurateurs, bar, and pub owners. Seated service will remain off-limits and dining rooms won’t reopen until at least Jan. 11, 2021. Ditto, for gyms and other venues. Not everyone is pleased with this turn of events. ”Barring us from restaurants is killing any chance for us to meet up with family & friends, not to mention the financial destruction caused to restaurateurs and their staff, ” says Norman Simon, Founder and Administrator of Canadians for Coexistence an intercultural group that promotes discussion and exchange between different communities. ”This is unacceptable.” Like many Montrealers, the retired teacher can’t fathom the logic of allowing big box stores and shopping malls to stay open while restaurants and pubs have to remain shuttered during what should be their busiest season.

  Many in the restaurant industry feel that they are being unfairly stigmatized. After continual delays in plans to reopen for indoor seated service and with the government throwing cold water on keeping cold patios open outside they were prepared for another letdown but are holding their heads high. The Association Restauration Québec (ARQ) has put out a statement to reassure public authorities that seated service in dining rooms doesn’t pose a health risk to customers. “Even if this announcement isn’t a surprise to the ARQ and its members, it can only be met with immense frustration. The ARQ maintains that restaurants are places where the demanded sanitary measures of the Public Health [department] are respected to the letter. We repeat: establishments in the red zone have the capacity to safely welcome clients in December.” 

The ARQ maintains that restaurants are safer than home gatherings where individuals are on the honour system. Service to customers is supervised and establishments are monitored by public health inspectors and the police. The frustration of worried restaurateurs is all the more palpable given the fact that the majority of the province’s eateries have yet to receive rent relief, François Meunier, Vice-President of Public and Government Affairs at the ARQ told Radio-Canada. “The closure of dining rooms, even for just one or two weeks, would mean the permanent closure for many restaurants.” The ARQ reports that Montreal restaurants had already experienced a 50 percent decline in sales in July compared to the same month the previous year. 

Restaurateurs and proprietors of drinking establishments have had to think outside the box to survive an unprecedented financial crisis this year. John Edward Gumbley of the Jegantic team is the owner of Bord’Elle Boutique Bar & Eatery an upscale restaurant-bar by day that switches to an after-hours nightclub at the stroke of midnight and, The Farsides an edgy new take on the restaurant and bar scene serving Thaï & Hawaiian fusion cuisine set to the tune of 80’s and 90’s hip pop. These were two of the hottest culinary spots in Old Montreal before Premier Legault and Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda shut their doors for indoor seated service for the second time. ”Put it this way,” Gumbley says, ”they’ve treated us poorly all along.” For employers and workers, it has been a dizzying cycle of target dates to reopen followed by abrupt notices to close within 24-48 hours. ”They’ve shown a lack of respect towards the hospitality sector with no fair warning,” he says.

In addition to concerns about rent relief that hasn’t arrived yet and a continuing loss of revenue, there is the loss of food stock. Restaurants still have to pay their suppliers even after they’ve been ordered to close up their dining rooms. What do you do if you’ve got a $4000 bill for fish on Monday and have to close in 1-2 days without so much as a heads up?  ”After two distinct phases of closures they still haven’t made good on any of their promises,” Gumbley says. He feels that Quebec could have allowed for a scaled down approach with patio service, like Ontario. ”If you don’t have a delivery model it’s hard to survive. Many restaurants can’t pivot to delivery.” The take-out menu is always cheaper than the dining-room menu but delivery services take 30% off the top. Restaurants aren’t allowed to sell alcohol with take-out fare so there goes the profit margin. ”They’ve completely eviscerated an entire industry,” Gumbley says. ”It is like Legault is laughing at us.”

 

The Farsides in Old Montreal is focused on take out and delivery. Thai fried chicken, Banana ketchup ribs, Pad Thai, gourmet burgers, gourmet subs, Fried chicken Bao buns, Hawaiian donuts, exotic sodas and more 514-951-8454⠀

The entreaties of restaurateurs like Gumbley to cut them some slack may be falling on deaf ears. In a recent speech to the CAQ faithful Legault indicated that he has a very different set of priorities for the economic future of Quebec. “The pandemic is also an opportunity to relaunch the economy on a new base, to move in a new direction,” he said, listing new potential in telecommuting for workers, online shopping, artificial intelligence and robotization.” Well, Montreal may be an A-I hub and an award-winning “smart city” but everyone is dying to get back to their normal routines. This means wining & dining during the festive season and on special occasions and attending public gatherings year round. 

There was no mention in Legault’s speech about the in-person economy i.e. workers returning to the office towers or restaurant dining rooms and cultural venues reopening. We now know that food courts in shopping centers won’t be open in December so it won’t be possible for weary holiday shoppers to take a load off their feet and enjoy a meal break. The continued shut down of restaurant dining begs the question of how downtown will ever be revitalized. There’s been an eerie silence about when exactly things will get back to normal. Legault seems to be suggesting that an abnormal state of affairs will continue with no end point further destabilizing whole sectors of the economy and social life. 

Montreal restaurateur Jon Gumbley (right), is optimistic that restaurant culture will survive and his own establishments will thrive in spite of major setbacks to the industry. Vincent Nguyen from Restaurant Hoai Huong in Brossard (left).

Quebec has always prided itself on its social contract with “le peuple québécois”. This year it has been upgraded to a moral agreement so as not to cancel Christmas or at least not X-mas shopping. Legault’s Christmas Angel act may have more to do with ringing up sales than ringing in the New Year. Arruda has been tamping down enthusiasm for home parties and Legault may yet play the part of the Grinch and steal Christmas from us if the number of cases keeps going up. Montreal region Public Health Director Dr. Mylène Drouin made a stunning announcement at her regular COVID-19 update on Wednesday when she said there should be no dancing and no singing at holiday gatherings. Perhaps Drouin overstepped her mandate with this latest pronouncement. Then again, perhaps the police will be sent round to arrest revelers having a jolly ole time. Who knows? The ground is shifting almost daily on what is allowed and disallowed in the endless series of rules and regulations being piled on. 

One thing is for sure: too many public officials have totally lost sight of the principles and rights enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These fundamental principles and inalienable rights include the right to free speech, freedom of expression, religious freedom, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of the press. Canadian citizens also have privacy rights, especially as these pertain to their private lives in their own homes. At this rate we may find ourselves humming a few bars from Auld Lang Zyne well into 2021 and beyond. Or will humming be banished too? As for the much-vaunted social contract: there doesn’t seem to be any recognition that it cuts both ways. People have put their lives on hold for the better part of 2020 for the greater good based on a promise that once a safe, reliable vaccine was available things would get back to normal. 

During the first wave of the pandemic the media shone a spotlight on the plight of the frail elderly and immunocompromised in nursing homes where a whopping 84 percent of COVID-related deaths in Canada occurred largely in Quebec, and Ontario. A similar pattern is emerging in the second wave in long-term care facilities across the country. Maimonides Geriatric Center in Côte Saint-Luc is the latest example, finding itself in the midst of another outbreak. During the second wave news reportage has given way to case-counting of people who test positive for the virus rather than deaths or hospitalizations. Granted, it is important to track cases as they indicate trends. However, this new metric is being presented with the same sense of urgency as the rapid death toll of the first wave despite the fact that most individuals who test positive have mild to moderate symptoms. The statistics are clear: the overwhelming majority of people who die with COVID-19 are already sheltering in place because of preexisting conditions. In spite of this reality, what some are calling a “casedemic” has become the new rationale for imposing sweeping restrictions on the vast majority of healthy adults. 

Legault’s pitch to the CAQ faithful is right in line with what the World Economic Forum (WEF) is pompously calling The Great Reset. In case you’ve missed this hot topic – it made the cover of Time Magazine a few weeks ago – The Great Reset is a top-down technocratic rejigging of the economy and society that promotes lockdowns as a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Great Reset campaign launched on July 2nd with a film, website, and white paper. A statement by The Campaign for The Great Reset describes the global initiative this way: ”The Great Reset is a creative industry movement to embed the positive environmental shifts that have happened during lockdown as THE new normal.” The campaign’s anonymous authors go on to say, ”The pause during lockdown created by the pandemic will result in a 7% decrease in global emissions in 2020,” although they don’t provide any evidence to support this claim. “The UN states that we need a decrease of 7.6% every year until 2030 to avoid climate and ecological disaster. This means we need to maintain the same decrease every year as if we were living in lockdown.”  The plan to direct everyone back home for 10 long years, ostensibly to save the planet, is staggering. If implemented, this half-baked idea would involve shutting down much of the economy and subjecting people to conditions experienced only in wartime. This ill-considered project by persons unknown who hover around the WEF urges people to resist going back to the way things were before the pandemic: “The challenge is that as we emerge from the pandemic the pressure to go back to ‘Business As Usual’ will intensify.” This not-so-hidden globalist agenda is catching the attention of politicians everywhere. Appearing in a recent United Nations video conference, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau linked the world’s response to the coronavirus pandemic to a “reset” of global systems at a time when Canadians want to know when a vaccine will be available for distribution in this country.

Moreover, this grandiose scheme for a radical reset of the world’s entire economy is unfolding in a legal vacuum without any regard for human rights. There is no doubt that there are many important environmental issues at stake and COVID-19 is a potentially deadly disease for those at risk. However, these pressing problems won’t be solved by keeping people isolated, depressed, and powerless over their own lives. Despite its pretensions The Great Reset is very much about an AI-powered technological rollout that will make billionaiire oligarchs even richer while creating opportunities for up-and-comers to join the ranks of dot-com millionaires. Hence, the focus on technology rather than simply living more sustainably by making better choices. 

This ploy won’t work even with the uber-wired Gen Zers who have never known a world without the Internet. The Centennials, as adolescent minors are also known, may be willing to level down from a human rep to a chatbot to get answers to routine questions, but kids still want to hang out with their crew and check out the local teen scene and not just stream content on social media. Few high school students, if they’re honest, are enthusiastic about spending their days masked in a classroom pod or home alone online. They want to play sports, meet new people and explore the world around them – not just view it on the Internet. College students are notorious for raucous partying on spring break. Even when things quiet down, guys still want to meet girls who want to meet guys and eventually, they make babies. Life goes on. Going out for dinner and a movie is a basic staple of dating at any age. So much for take-out and a future without physical contact and social gatherings. 

The same holds true for Generation Y, the cohort between 19-35 totaling approximately 4.4 billion young adults worldwide. Gen Yers have disposable income and flash it around. According to Bankrate 54% of Millennials eat out at least 3 times per week and keep baristas busy. They love to scoff burgers, BBQ, and brew at a noisy pub, rock out at live concerts, attend wine-tasting events, and are passionate about working out. For Millennials, fitness has taken on a new meaning — and is a means to seek out community. Psychotherapist Nathalie Theodore says she believes Gen Yers are the first generation to prioritize fitness. “While Gen Xers and Baby Boomers are still mostly working out to burn calories, Millennials are turning to fitness as a means of making friends, meeting potential love interests, and networking,” says Theodore in salon.com. Premium gyms come equipped with bistro-style cafes and serve as fitness social hubs where patrons can refuel after a workout and schmooze.

The contrived contact-less hyper-digital landscape the global gurus behind the curtain are pushing will never replace the real world no matter how clever the re-design. Restaurants, gyms, cinemas, and cultural venues will have to reopen sooner or later. Sports facilities want to get fans back in the stands. Places of worship need to resume full services especially during religious holy days. Community groups can’t function effectively if they can’t meet up some place. People naturally desire to spend time with family members and close personal friends in their own homes.There’s a world of difference between a smart city run by smart people and a digital dystopia that imprisons people behind a screen 24/7. Nothing replaces meaningful in-person contact. Real people know the difference even if robots don’t.    

Gumbley, a Gen Xer who is just a bit older than the Gen Y crowd who do the resto-bar circuit, is optimistic that restaurant culture will survive and his own establishments will thrive in spite of major setbacks to the industry right now. ”We’re not waiting on the sidelines,” he says. ”We’re doing lots of marketing and online promos showcasing our restaurants.” He doesn’t think that dining rooms will reopen before February or March despite Legault’s most recent statement that they might re-open for indoor seated service as early as mid-January. This is all the more reason why it’s important to keep up your brand,” he says. That way, ”when we do reopen, we’re alive and relevant to the general population.”  

Feature image: Vincent Nguyen from Restaurant Hoai Huong and Jon Gumbley owner of Farsides

By: Deborah Rankin – info@mtltimes.ca

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