'Immediate return in bookings': B.C. hospitality sector celebrates end of indoor capacity limits

Many B.C. bars and restaurants welcome the end of COVID-19 capacity limits in several regions around the province. John Hua reports.

As capacity limits for indoor gatherings lift in much of the province, some hospitality workers are celebrating a sharp uptick in bookings for special events.

Effective Monday, there are no longer any limits on the number of guests an indoor venue can admit, as long as everyone has proof of full vaccination. Masked mingling, but not dancing, is also allowed.

“We’re seeing an immediate return in bookings,” said Jeff Guignard, executive director of the B.C. Alliance of Beverage Licensees.

“So we may have turned a corner here, and industry is really quite excited to be able to offer something closer to that traditional hospitality experience.”

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Just a few weeks ago, Guignard said people were calling hotels, restaurants and other places to cancel their holiday parties and events — losses that amounted to “thousands and thousands of dollars.”

For well over a year, 80 per cent of the hospitality sector has been “losing money or breaking even,” he added, so even with an increase in new bookings, no one is out of the woods.

“We’re trying to look at our problems head on, which are massive labour shortages (and) potential for having paid sick leave implemented at a time when we can’t afford it,” he said.

“So we’re cautiously optimistic about the future, but people are just tired of having to deal with all the challenges of COVID, just like everyone else is.”

Gathering limits of 50 per cent of a venue’s capacity remain in place where COVID-19 vaccination remains low, including some parts of the Fraser, Northern and Interior health regions.

Guignard also lamented continued restrictions on the sale of alcohol after 10 p.m. in some parts of B.C.

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For Sammy J’s Grill and Bar president Michael Gardner, the lifting of capacity limits alone is “huge.”

He opened a new location in Maple Ridge over the summer and said his team has been taking it “day by day, week by week.”

“Let’s just hope that everybody keeps their head on straight, and that the passport thing continues to do its thing, and allows us to slowly keep having more of these fun things, and eventually get back to the new normal,” he said in an interview.

Phones at Sammy J’s, which has four B.C. locations, have been “ringing off the hook” with new event bookings to the point where they’ve had to turn some down, he added.

“It’s insane. We’re ecstatic to be honest,” Gardner said. “We do love doing this and we can’t wait to have some of the big groups we’ve had in the past come back again.”

Read more:
B.C. lifts COVID-19 capacity limits on gatherings for much of province

However, not everyone the industry has seen the same increase.

Those working in banquet halls, weddings and nightclubs, for example, have told Global News that their business remains heavily impacted by the indoor mask mandate and ban on dancing.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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