Many shuttered restaurants and gyms in Manitoba will begin reopening their doors next week after being closed for more than two months due to the coronavirus pandemic, but not everyone is ready to welcome back customers just yet.
Little Goat restaurant on Portage Avenue doesn’t have any plans to welcome customers back to its dining room next week, and instead are waiting a little longer.
“Restaurants tend to do best and be profitable when they’re operating at full capacity,” said Little Goat chef and owner Alexander Svenne.
In order to follow provincial guidelines that require restaurants to operate at half capacity, the French comfort food restaurant would have to go from having 15 tables that seat 65 people, down to about 32 people spread between 7 tables, Svenne said.
“Operating at half capacity, you still need to staff the kitchen and have servers and stock the fridges,” he said.
“It’s going to be hard to do that and even break even.”
Svenne also says guidelines that keep people sitting at different tables at least 2 metres apart will help to protect customers from each other, but may not ensure a safe distance is maintained between customers and staff.
“The server can’t serve a table six feet apart or six feet from the table,” he said.
“Our servers interact with customers, we chat, we try to create a conversational, interactive, friendly kind of atmosphere, and I think it would be hard to do that in this new situation, and if we can’t do that, then are we offering what Little Goat is about?”
Restaurants will choose what works
Based on his understanding of the government’s guidelines, Svenne said he feels it means restaurants are being recommended to keep menus limited and encourage turnover of tables to avoid those customers being in the space for too long, but that doesn’t appeal to the chef either.
“I know when I go out, I want to linger over my cheese board and a glass of wine and chit chat till whenever, so it’s this idea of rushing customers doesn’t sit well with the way I like to run my restaurant,” he said.
The restaurant has been doing delivery of family suppers during the shut down, and Svenne says that’s been working out well for it.
“It’s been busy enough to kind of keep us — as we say, keep the Goat afloat,” he said.
“I think we have a bit of a luxury of not having to rush into it. I think for some people it might be a little bit harder to not start serving as soon as they can.”
Svenne said he and his wife are making decisions week by week and will decide to open when it feels right.
He acknowledges that his situation is unique and that each restaurant will decide what’s right for them and their own circumstances.
“Those that choose to open, whether it is their patios or dining rooms, we should do our best to support them,” he said.
“And those that choose not to, we should do our best for them too because everyone needs help.”
Some fitness studios also not rushing
Michael Russell, who owns two 9Round Fitness locations in Winnipeg, says while he’s eager to welcome members back to the kickboxing circuit-style gym, it’s going to take a bit longer for his staff to adjust to new protocols.
“For us it’s new procedures, a whole new world to us, with having to have class times like the government has stated and cutting down the number of people that are allowed in the space at one time” said Russell.
According to the province’s plan, fitness facilities will have to keep guests apart by at least 2 metres, limit capacity by half or keep people 10 square metres apart, adhere to strict cleanliness protocols including hand-washing and regularly clean equipment, screen guests and manage entry ways.
There should also be no towel service, plenty of hand-wash stations, disinfectant for guests and staff, signs outlining the physical distancing and cleaning rules, and discouraged use of drop-in service.
For a gym like 9Round, drop-in style is what they do. The gym offers 30 minute high-intensity interval training, where people come and go when it’s convenient for them, and a new circuit starts every three minutes.
The main focus of the gym’s business model is that there are no class times, and members drop-in whenever they like.
Now, Russell says, his staff will need to be retrained, and a new appointment system will be adopted.
Members will register for scheduled slots, and then staff will do a 15-minute clean of the equipment before the gym allows the next set of people in, he said, making sure customers stay spaced out and aren’t waiting in the same area.
Because the fitness centre was set up to be a drop-in style circuit, Russell says it makes it that much harder to reinvent their model.
“For those [gyms] that are able to open, that’s great,” Russell said.
“But for those of us that have such a dramatic business model change, it’s going to take us some time to learn all the intricacies,” he said.
Workers and members must feel safe
Staff at the gym will also need to feel comfortable enforcing the new rules, which the Russell says was never part of their jobs before.
“Making sure that they’re comfortable getting back to being able to do their original job, as well as control the floor, making sure that they’re able to tell people what they need to tell them,” Russell said.
Russell says he was expecting fitness facilities to be part of a later phase in the province’s reopening plan, which means gym owners and managers like him have had less time to make arrangements and get everybody back on track.
Russell is hoping to be up and running in the next few weeks, but, much like other businesses, is still struggling to secure supplies such as hand sanitizer, cleaners and gloves.
He wants to make sure both his staff and the gym’s members feel safe coming back.
“We’re doing this properly. We’re not just going to rip open the doors and let everybody come piling it.”
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