'Not a level playing field': Ottawa restaurant owners frustrated with restrictions as arenas welcome 100 per cent capacity
OTTAWA -- Restaurant owners in Ottawa continue to voice their opposition at the Ontario government’s move to allow stadiums to operate at full capacity while their businesses continue to suffer with seating restrictions.
The lunchtime rush at Reynold’s Restaurant is underway, indoor seating is full, or as full as it can get, considering every second table must remain empty, in order to comply with Ontario’s COVID-19 regulations. Owners say those restrictions make it difficult to pay the bills.
"We’re just trying to make a living like everybody else and it’s by far right now the toughest industry to be in and they’re not making it very easy on us," says owner Gregory Aboukheir. "We have the harshest restrictions on restaurants and I just find that it’s not a level playing field."
Aboukheir’s point, on Thursday, the Canadian Tire Centre was packed with fans, cheering on the Ottawa Senators as they faced the Toronto Maple Leafs in the home opener. Last week the province opened arenas for maximum capacity, saying the decision was backed by medical advice. Aboukheir doesn’t buy it.
“What are they trying to say COVID doesn’t enter the arena but only enters restaurants.”
At a press conference on Friday, Premier Doug Ford said that next week changes will come for restaurants as well as other businesses with reduced capacity limits, like gyms, but would not elaborate on whether restrictions will be loosened.
"We’re going to roll out a comprehensive plan, one that will withstand the test of time," said Ford. "I’m not going to rush it because anything you do in this pandemic it can come back and backfire on you."
Sarah Chown, Ottawa chair for the Ontario Restaurant, Hotel and Motel Association says it was disappointing that the premier did not announce that indoor seating caps would be lifted.
"People aren’t sitting on top of each other in restaurants, you know in sports arenas they’re literally elbow to elbow," says Chow. "The weather is starting to shift peoples patios are going to be closing we really need to get that capacity up to 100 percent indoors."
For Aboukheir, he’s done holing out hope that change will happen soon.
"They always give you that false hope they put the reel out and then as you get closer they reel it back in I’m not going to say anything until it actually happens and it’s a little more consistent," he says. "Let us live our lives, let us operate our business, with all do respect you know get off our back and leave us alone."