Restaurant owners in Ontario are preparing to reopen their patios Friday as the province enters Step 1 in its reopening plan.

“I originally thought it was going to be June 14  for when we were allowed to reopen again so I’m pleasantly surprised and excited to get back to work,” Rhiannon Wicks, owner and operator of The Grapefruit Moon, said in a phone interview.

“I’m happy that they gave us more than six hours notice in comparison to last time.”

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Courtesy: McEwan Group

The first step of Ontario’s reopening plan allows businesses to reopen outdoor dining with up to four people per table, with exceptions for larger households.

Restaurants have only been able to run take-out and delivery services for the past 86 days, with Ontario Premier Doug Ford declaring a state of emergency on March 17.

Since Ford announced an earlier start to the province’s reopening plan on Monday, business owners have been scrambling to ready their patios and hire back staff.

“It’s just a whole bunch of energy with your fingers crossed as an owner because you are spending a bunch of money but you’re not making any money,” Mark McEwan, founder of the McEwan Group, said in a phone interview.

“We had to rehire back all of our staff but for us it’s more complicated because it’s high-end dining and there’s a real expectation from customers. You have to re-climatize everyone which takes time; when we opened last we hired everyone back and within one pay period we had to let them all go again.”

Many business owners are excited to finally move away from relying on delivery apps due to the significant costs associated with them.

“Takeout has been horrible for us; our biggest money maker is brunch and that stuff does not travel well since it gets cold fast. We have support from our local community who can personally come in to pick up products and of course delivery apps but they take so much revenue off the top,” Wicks said.

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Courtesy: The Grapefruit Moon

“We’re losing money left, right and centre with everything at this moment. We’re cancelling our Uber Eats and DoorDash delivery after this weekend since it just isn’t working at all.”

Some provinces, such as Saskatchewan, have already reopened restaurant dining. Currently, businesses are allowed indoor and outdoor dining with two metres of physical distancing. Restaurants are only allowed to seat members of the same dining party with a maximum of six people.

Kristin Valgardson, tap room manager at Pile O' Bones Brewing, said her best advice for Ontario restaurant owners is to make sure your staff members are educated about COVID-19 procedures.

“One of our biggest challenges was the fact that some customers were leaving their house for the first time maybe in months, they didn’t know about the mandatory mask policy or what contract tracing is,” Valgardson said in a phone interview.

“Make sure your staff is ready to have the same conversation over and over again and to just be patient since it’s important to make sure the customers have a great experience while being safe since they’ve chosen to come out and support you.”

As Ontario enter Step 1 of reopening on Friday, several other public health restrictions have been lifted, such as non-essential retailers now being allowed to operate at 15 per cent capacity and the resumption of outdoor fitness classes.

Ontario’s reopening framework outlines that the province can enter Step 2 once 70 per cent of adults have received their first dose, and 20 per cent are fully vaccinated, along with meeting other key health indicators including lower case counts and deaths.

Ontario is expected to enter Step 2, which includes the reopening of personal care services, in July, at the earliest.

Jane Langdon, co-founder of Strewn Winery at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. said she’s already seeing a surge in demand with online bookings but she hopes businesses remain responsible so the province can continue with its reopening plan.

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Courtesy: Strewn Winery

“We are all so deprived after being closed for so long, I just hope everyone is going to be responsible about how we do it so we get to the other side safely,” Langdon said in a phone interview.

“All I can say is please let it be wonderful weather all summer and fall before we can finally move into Step 3.”

But there’s still a possibility Ontario could re-enter lockdown in the future, with the same situation taking place earlier this year when outdoor dining reopened for a week before the province entered another state of emergency.

“If they shut us down again I would resist, I’m not saying I would disobey the law but I would stamp my feet and punch my fists on the table before I let anyone shut us down again,” McEwan said.

“They’re going to have chaos if they shut the city (Toronto) down again.”