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Six Frustrating Challenges to Reopening a Restaurant in the COVID-19 Era

[UPDATE MAY 22, 2020]: When we published this article a week ago, the 16th of May, we hoped that it would be found by a few other restauranteurs and let them know that they aren’t alone, and that the public who regularly follow us would gain some insight into our challenges. However, this article has since been shared all across Canada and even had respectable readership from the United States, viewed over 80,000 times by more than 61,000 people worldwide. It has been shared and reposted on social media hundreds, if not thousands of times, and we’ve spend much of the past week attempting to catalog and answer replies on this post and across various platforms, as well as fielding phone calls and conducting interviews with the press. This post was the top thread on the Calgary sub-Reddit for a while, and placed highly on the Alberta sub-Reddit, as well.

We could have never guessed that our transparency would resonate so strongly with so many people, and we have to thank all of you who’ve left comments, forwarded along to friends, purchased takeout or ordered us for delivery, etc. We especially appreciate the incredible level of positivity and constructive feedback people have given us about this article. Eventually we hope to make a follow-up article to talk about all of the wonderful ideas people have come up with about how to deal with these challenges, including what approaches we decide to take.

A small sample of the press highlights of the past few days:

This article was also republished in Sustain Magazine on May 22, 2020.


We are now at a turning point in the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, where measures taken to flatten the curve are starting to demonstrate that they’re working. Governments have begun to recognize the full economic and societal impacts of the restrictions they placed on their citizens and businesses, and are quickly starting to regroup as they face the daunting prospect of trying to rebuild an economy after 10-30% of small businesses have been forced to permanently close, and unemployment rates begin to approach and even surpass those of the Great Depression, which took a full decade and a world war to recover from.

While Prairie Dog has opted to remain closed for dine-in operations after May 14, 2020 (and very likely past the updated May 25th date announced on May 13), we do plan to eventually reopen. Ever since the May 1st announcement about restaurants reopening, people have been asking us over and over if we’ll be opening on the 14th. It can be difficult to adequately address the various challenges to doing so in a few comments on the phone or in person. When we do finally reopen, guests should expect a very different experience compared to what we were able to provide before. This article attempts to explain the complex and difficult situation we, as restaurant owners, are in when considering reopening to the public for dine-in.

It appears that our government wants to get out of the way of business as quickly as possible and leave most of the details in the hands of the business owner, which is great on one hand, but that means you could have a very different experience at different restaurants based on how seriously each restauranteur or restaurant ownership group takes the threat of COVID-19 to their staff and customers, and how they choose to approach the situation. Desperation leads to risk taking, and in this economic climate, many service-industry businesses are already in a desperate struggle to survive.

That said, what are some of the key points we are considering when thinking about reopening?

What to Do About Dishes?

Let’s first start with something that sounds so simple – dirty dishes.

Most people probably don’t think about the fact that at a typical full-service restaurant, the dirty dishes have to go back into a dish area to be cleaned, where a person typically sprays them off with a pre-rinse wand before running them through a dish washer for a final clean and sanitizing run. While spraying, the person cleaning the dishes may be aerosolizing everything present on those dishes, including customers’ saliva and viruses like COVID-19. This also generates a lot of spray-back, which lands all over over the person’s body in the process. That puts that person and everyone else that enters the dish area (such as the people bussing dishes, and line cooks dropping off dirty bowls and utensils) at an elevated risk of infection, both through inhalation and through surface contact.

To address infection risks for the person cleaning the dishes, they would have to wear a properly-fitted N95 mask to prevent inhalation of aerosolized droplets (and change it frequently), plus a full face shield to avoid droplets from going into their eyes (and this is still only partial protection), as well as a full-length rubber bib, and gauntlet gloves. And of course, this is all the while working with a hot sprayer next to a hot machine designed to bring dish temperatures above 180F (82C) to sanitize them, causing the person to become extremely hot, sweaty and uncomfortable, and increasing their odds of having to take off gloves to touch their face, neck, etc. to wipe off sweat, or to remove masks while taking a breather, etc., which could negate all of the benefits of the PPE.

After dishes are washed, there are many ways for them to become contaminated, either through the air or overspray in the dish area, or by the people washing and putting away the dishes, who may have been handling dirty dishes continually for several hours, and have viral particles all over their clothing, regardless of hand-washing. And contaminated items could include things like cutting boards, knives, tongs and the other utensils used by kitchen staff to prepare dozens of meals for different customers just before the food leaves the kitchen. Typically those utensils are considered sanitary after they come out of the hot dish machine, and are used without the application of additional chemical sanitizers.

Therefore, if we want to keep our staff and customers safe, restaurants require a radical rethink of how we manage our dirty customer dishes before we reopen. This is not a new problem, but it was one that was much easier to miss prior to COVID-19. The simplest solution is to eliminate dishes altogether – switching to cafeteria trays and takeout containers for table service, and having customers bus their own containers to the garbage/compost/recycling before they leave, the same way it works at a lot of quick service restaurants (fast food, mall food courts, etc.). Unfortunately for us at Prairie Dog, that flies in the face of our sustainability efforts by generating a ton of extra waste — an uncomfortable bargain that we’ve already had to make for our takeout offerings.

All that takeout packaging costs a lot of money, too. For a typical family order, it can cost us upwards of $10, not including the cost of condiments like salt and pepper packets, wet naps, hand sanitizers, etc.

The simple fact is that none of the standard restaurant dish management practices are designed to account for aerosolization of viral particles, and solutions to the problem could lead to substantial increases in restaurant spending, either on labour, chemicals, or PPE, at the same time as we are only able to stay open because of government wage subsidies, which could disappear out from under us at any moment.

The PPE Problem

World Health Organization guidelines for when to wear a mask.
World Health Organization guidelines for when to wear a mask.

The recently-released Alberta provincial guidelines for reopening restaurant dine-in service state that all staff who cannot maintain a 2-metre distance from customers must wear personal protective equipment (PPE) such as a “cloth or surgical mask”.

The Mayo clinic, based on CDC data, states that “A cloth mask is worn to help protect others in case the wearer has the virus. An N95 mask helps protect the wearer from getting the virus from others”. It appears that Health Canada agrees with the CDC, stating that cloth masks have “not been proven to protect the person wearing it and [are] not a substitute for physical distancing”. The World Health Organization also states:

  • Non-medical or cloth masks could increase potential for COVID-19 to infect a person if the mask is contaminated by dirty hands and touched often, or kept on other parts of the face or head and then placed back over the mouth and nose
  • It is possible that mask use, with unclear benefits, could create a false sense of security in the wearer, leading to diminished practice of recognized beneficial preventive measures such as physical distancing and hand hygiene

Further, while cloth masks are currently endorsed by many health agencies for reducing COVID-19 transmission, that endorsement is based on weak evidence and may be heavily-rooted in the fact that those agencies are trying to avoid a panic-driven rush by ordinary citizens to purchase medical masks, which would make them unavailable in situations where they are very important (more on that later). Obviously, a cloth mask will retain some of the expelled fluids when a symptomatic person coughs or sneezes, but servers are not even allowed to be working in that condition. Research published by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in April 2020 suggests that cloth masks may only trap larger droplets while allowing finer bioaerosols to pass through unchecked, and in asymptomatic carriers, it seems that the virus is primarily shed in the form of those bioaerosols.

Given that restaurant customers often outnumber the service staff by 20:1 to 50:1, our staff are on the losing end of the transmission equation, especially since customers can’t wear a mask while eating and drinking, and aren’t legally required to wear a mask at any other time, either.

Surgical masks are included in the provincial recommendations, but in many ways, they perform similarly to cloth, only protecting others and not the wearer, because they allow airborne particles to flow around the mask and be directly inhaled. Surgical masks are really designed to prevent the person wearing the mask from accidentally contaminating an open wound while performing a medical procedure, or from being sprayed in the mouth or nose while addressing arterial bleeding and the like. None of that protects the wearer from airborne respiratory droplets.

An N95 mask, as shown here, protects both the wearer from others, and others from the wearer, when used to protect against COVID-19.
An N95 mask, as shown here, protects both the wearer from others, and others from the wearer, when used to protect against COVID-19, and combined with proper hand-washing and personal hygiene.

What servers actually need are N95 masks — the kind without any vent valve, which are the medical standard in situations where stopping airborne respiratory droplets and bioaerosols are a concern. And if servers properly use their N95 masks, they both protect themselves from customers, and protect customers from themselves. This is the reason health professionals use these masks.

It’s important to mention that governments have been trying hard to ration N95 masks out of fears of lack of supply for medical professionals, and in some areas (particularly in the US), this is still a really big deal. In Alberta, however, our distancing measures and early response to the pandemic led to far fewer cases than initially feared, to the point that Alberta started giving away hundreds of thousands of masks to other provinces by mid-April, and N95 masks are now available for purchase through websites like Canada’s Rapid Response Platform and ATB Nexus, albeit at inflated prices compared with before the pandemic, and still in limited quantities. The media is also rife with stories about subpar N95 masks that fail to meet the N95 spec, so finding a source for masks is no guarantee of solving this problem. It would be really helpful if the province already had a stockpile of quality masks that they could supply to restaurants to give us a head-start while we establish our own supply chains.

Medical professionals treat used PPE as a biohazard and remove it and dispose of it accordingly, called “doffing”, since it could be laden in infectious diseases (and that includes cloth and surgical masks). Thankfully, AHS has great guidelines for how to “doff” PPE, like this poster, but we had to read through a guide for home care professionals to find these guidelines, rather than in any of the information targeted at restaurants reopening in the COVID-19 world. Between the guidelines telling us that our staff should wear ineffective masks, and the lack of information in those same guidelines about how to properly use, remove, and dispose of them, it feels like the province is sending our staff into the front lines with only an illusion of protection.

Unfortunately, disposing of PPE will have a heavy environmental toll, as very little of the PPE materials are recyclable, and masks may have to be replaced multiple times per day, per staff member. If we have 20 shifts on a busier day, such as a Friday, we might have to use 30-40 masks on that day, alone. There are alternatives, like this reusable Alberta-made respirator, which has an interchangeable single-use filter that conforms to the N95 spec, but we don’t know if this is in full production yet, or how easy it will be to source a supply of hundreds of filters per week. Staff in some positions may also need to wear gloves, which also adds up quickly both in terms of cost and waste.

The Revenue Problem

Perhaps this is obvious, but the earning potential of a restaurant in this coronavirus-laden world deserves some discussion because it is a huge barrier to reopening. As we’ve mentioned in the past, restaurants are not high-margin businesses. There is an industry phrase called “The Magic Nickel“, which refers to the fact that even the best-run restaurants still only come out with 5 cents left in their metaphorical pocket from each 1 dollar in revenue earned, after paying all of their operating expenses and overhead.

Below we provide you with a rare glimpse into the costs and profitability of our restaurant — something that we would normally hold very close to our chest. But in these strange times, it feels right to be as transparent as we can about how difficult it is just to stay afloat as a restaurant, be it Prairie Dog or anywhere else, and how much cash flow this type of business moves through in a given month, while retaining so little for the future. So please, take advantage of this opportunity to try to understand our numbers through what might be dry content, if it wasn’t such a life or death situation for us we would typically hold these cards closer to our chest. Note that we’ve deliberately excluded a lot of the brewery-related expenses from the numbers below because the brewery has effectively been shut down for the past two months (though we are booting it back up now).

Static Overhead

At Prairie Dog, our static overhead looks something like this:

  • Rent, loans and equipment lease payments (incl. interest): $36k/month
  • Utilities and waste removal: $5-10k/month (depending on season)
  • Insurance and bank fees: $6k/month
  • Cleaning, linen and maintenance services: $4k/month
  • Legal fees, business licences, permits, inspections and cleaning supplies: $3-5k/month
  • Software for point of sale, accounting, staff scheduling, inventory management, etc.: $2k/month

That’s about $62k/mo, meaning we need to earn about $2,070 per day in revenue just to cover our basic overhead.

Variable Costs and Labour Overhead

Of our variable costs, labour is the largest. However, staffing is again not very linear with business levels. Just opening our doors for dine-in requires a skeleton crew like this:

  • A kitchen manager that also works as a prep/line cook (40 hrs/week)
  • A front of house manager who also serves and bartends (40 hrs/week)
  • Server/bartenders (90+ hrs/week for a single person on the floor at any given moment)
  • Dish washers (60 hrs/week)
  • 1-2 line cooks (140 hrs/week), bare minimum
  • 12 hours per day of prep cook time (84 hrs/week), because we make most items from scratch
  • A bookkeeper (20 hrs/week)

With Prairie Dog’s fair wages, our skeleton crew costs about $34k/month, in base wages alone! Vacation pay, benefits and payroll taxes add another 12-15% on top of that, for a total labour outlay of about $38k/mo. If you haven’t already done the math, our total monthly cash outlay with overhead and this skeleton crew is running about $100k, or $3,333/day.

In our current takeout-only model, our labour costs run only slightly lower than the dine-in skeleton, around $35k/mo, because our kitchen is very busy with takeout and we require many food expeditors for packaging, filling growlers and taking orders in person and over the phone. Splitting our sales across so many online services also requires additional bookkeeping work beyond 20 hours per week.

Some roles from our skeleton crew are transferrable between takeout and dine-in, but certainly the floor would require additional staff like servers and bartenders at busier times, and more kitchen staff would be needed to handle the volume during the lunch and dinner rushes, as well as for cleaning customer dishes, if we do that. So to provide a reasonably good level of customer service throughout the week, we need to add another $20-30k to our monthly labour, and that’s still without us employing extra staff to handle the additional sanitation and safety protocols that come with having guests dining in (such as dedicated hosts and bussing staff). So far, our monthly capital outlay is around $120-130k.

Now, we still haven’t spoken about food cost and supplies. We aim for an average food cost in the realm of 30% of the retail price on the menu. Supplies like vinyl gloves, masks, portioning bags, napkins, foil wrap, vacuum seal bags, replacement plates and cutlery, and hundreds of other small items add up to another 3% or so of overall sales (not including any new PPE and disinfectants required for in-house dining, which could add upwards of another $500/week in operating expenses).

The Mind-Boggling Numbers

If you do the math, to cover the 33% food cost+supplies plus $130k in combined labour costs and overhead (for concurrent dine-in and takeout/delivery), we need to earn $194k per month just to break even (calculated as target = 130000 / (1 – 0.33)). That’s an average daily sales revenue of $6,500, and with that we still haven’t retained our magic nickel! That magic nickel is required to cover future unexpected expenses and repairs, or if we ever wanted to replace furniture or invest in additional kitchen or brewery equipment, or to pay for renovations. Bringing in that extra 5% takes us to $204k in monthly revenue required to operate ($6,800/day), compared with the roughly $4k/day required to operate in a takeout/delivery-only model (approximately 30% less than if we tried to reopen).

In this climate of fear and economic meltdown, we do not believe it would be reasonable to expect Prairie Dog to earn anywhere near $204k in monthly revenue. Before COVID-19, with oil over $50/bbl, 210 seats and no distancing requirements, that was an attainable number for us, believe it or not.

What About Government Assistance Programs?

Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS)

The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy was introduced in April and allows us to retroactively recover a portion of our employee wages going back all the way to March 15th, just before we had to lay off 19 staff. The subsidy reimburses us for up to 75% of their wages, or as much as $847/week for that staff member (based on their average wage before the layoff).

Of all the government responses to the pandemic, the CEWS has by far had the biggest impact on our chance of surviving (as long as we don’t have to shut down again, but more on that later). We have to thank the federal government big time for getting this program in place. The CEWS will save us as much as $25,000 per month in labour (not every employee’s wage is eligible). This savings brings our monthly revenue target down from $204k to about $165k, or $5,500/day (more than a $25k drop because the reduction in required sales to cover the labour savings also reduces it’s corresponding cost of ingredients and supplies — yay!).

Besides saving us money, the CEWS has enabled us to bring many previously-laid-off staff back on board without as much fear and stress about trying to meet labour cost targets, and makes it easier to retain those staff for our eventual reopening.

Temporary 10 Percent Wage Subsidy

A 10% wage subsidy was introduced by the federal government sometime in late March or early April to help employers cut down their payroll tax burden, where the government offered to credit 10% of employee wages toward payroll taxes like EI and CPP. In our case, with a small workforce in a low income bracket, payroll taxes equate to a much smaller amount than 10% of wages, so we are accruing a credit toward future payroll tax expenditures. In the near term, we are not seeing much of a decrease in cash outflow from this program, but in the medium term, this accrued credit should helpful getting back on our feet again. In terms of impact on our monthly break-even sales, we still need to target over $162k ($5,415/day) with the benefits provided by this program.

Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA)

One of the drawbacks of the CEWS program is that we have to wait about 4-6 weeks after outlaying cash for payroll before we see the reimbursement come back to us from the CRA. This would have posed a really severe problem for us without the Canada Emergency Business Account, which provides us with a $40k revolving line of credit that we can use for anything, more or less, but provided us with the financial buffer required to have the cash in our bank account to cover payroll outflows while waiting for CEWS reimbursements.

The flexibility and repayment terms associated with the CEBA are first rate and far less punitive than our other loans. Again, another huge win for the federal government on this one. The only thing that could have made this program better is if we could have applied for a larger line of credit based on our specific needs, since as you saw earlier, $40k doesn’t even cover our basic overhead, and we were quite busy before March, so had a ton of outstanding payables coming up to their 30-day terms after we were forced to close our doors, many of which are still not paid today due to the fragility of the situation.

The CEBA does not impact our monthly revenue targets, as it just works as a buffer for our bank account, and ultimately has to be repaid.

Canadian Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) Program

The CECRA program is the federal government’s attempt to protect small businesses facing COVID-19-related revenue losses and unable to make rent payments. Eligible businesses can receive a rent reduction of at least 75% (of base rent) if their landlords take part in the program.

Unfortunately for us at Prairie Dog, we are not eligible for the CECRA program because we cannot attest that we’ve had a 70% reduction in revenue. Our new takeout/delivery business is doing well and we’re now running at around 50% of average pre-COVID-19 earnings.

What About the Owners?

You may have noticed that we didn’t talk about paying our owners, even though the owners are heavily involved in daily operations and spend about 300 hundred hours per week working at/for the pub.

Being less than 2 years into operations and having a very lean financial start, we hadn’t begun paying ourselves wages before COVID-19. What we were doing was covering our basic personal expenses, like rent, mortgage, childcare, car loans, and insurance, by repaying ourselves back some of the interest-free loans we made to start the company (aka: our life savings). But now that Prairie Dog is in such a fragile state, we fear that we would kill it if we take anything out of the company, so we are just going into more personal debt.

Lacking any form of taxable income for the past several years, we are completely ineligible for CERB and EI, as well as the other major benefits provided by our governments in response to COVID-19, like the CEWS, which cannot be used to help pay owner wages. We also have no access to government support in the event that we contract COVID-19 and need to convalesce at home, unlike our employees. This situation has unfortunately placed us into deep poverty and at great personal risk. We can at least find solace in the fact that we own and work in a great place that serves delicious food and beer, and at least we are still able to take care of our staff.

The Final Revenue Target

With the above programs in place and without any discretionary spending that wasn’t already discussed, we need to earn more than $160k/month, or an average of about $5,400 per day if we reopen for dine-in business. We believe that we can eventually achieve that kind of revenue, but it will take both time and a well-executed strategy to get there, and for a while we will have significant losses to overcome. For now, while we build that strategy and address the other challenges on this list, it makes far more sense to stick with the takeout and delivery model, where we are not quite breaking even, but are not losing anywhere close to what we might if we try to reopen for dine-in and don’t earn revenue approaching $160k/mo.

Unpleasant Customer Experience

Our customers are accustomed to a laid back, bohemian, highly-social atmosphere where they are encouraged to move around and engage with one another in a communal setting. Indeed, our catch phrase, “Beer, BBQ, Friends”, is rooted in the very idea that socialization is a key pillar of our offering. Our seating is largely composed of large, 10-12 seat tables. We have a 30-seat bar designed to get people chatting with one another and our bartenders.

We have a lot of fun and work hard at Prairie Dog, but it’s all about people and bringing community together. We wonder how our customers will feel if they are immediately stopped at our door like they are at the airport security line, then asked to wait for a table with marks laid out on the floor to control traffic direction and enforce the minimum safe distance between waiting parties.

The Alberta guidelines also state that seated parties must be limited to groups no larger than 6, which might not be a big deal at other restaurants, but at Prairie Dog large groups have become our bread and butter clientele, composing roughly half of our patronage before we closed in March. We do not want to have a group of 7 come into the restaurant and have to split them up. The province would probably argue that large groups are not supposed to be going out together to begin with, but the reality for us is that they certainly will come, probably in droves, so we need a strategy to handle that situation in a manner that provides a positive customer experience without landing us in hot water.

If there’s one thing that’s clear about human psychology, it’s that nobody wants to be called out or policed for their behaviour, especially by a random server at a restaurant. It is unclear whether we should expect our staff to be policing customers that violate distancing rules. Regardless, our patrons will expect us to intervene, because the violation is happening in our establishment and risking the health of the other people around the offender. That puts our staff at increased risk of verbal abuse and violence, which has been happening elsewhere. It also puts our other customers at greater risk of becoming involved in an uncomfortable incident. These are not experiences that any restauranteur wants their staff or guests to be involved in.

With the charm of Prairie Dog suppressed by the new controls, signage, servers in masks, etc., combined with the fact that many citizens will continue to play it safe and stay home, can we expect customers to want to continue to come dine in our restaurant — enough for us to earn what we need to stay open? Before we can reopen, we need to grapple more with this issue and fully understand how the altered experience will impact our customers, and which aspects of the provincial guidelines are compulsory vs. discretionary.

Impact on Our Psyche

Chart of COVID-19 infections in Alberta by zone. Calgary takes a massive lead in infection rates, and the curve is still quite steep and has not levelled off as it has in other areas.
COVID-19 infections in Alberta by zone up to May 12, 2020. Calgary takes a massive lead in infection rates. Our curve is still quite steep and has not levelled off as it has in other areas. Source:

The chart above makes it obvious that we Calgarians are by no means out of the woods yet. Therefore, some of our former staff have told us they don’t want to come back to work in a restaurant, especially if we were to reopen for dine-in business. The CERB benefit provided by our federal government is definitely helping to keep those staff comfortable at home and limiting their exposure to COVID-19, as it was intended, but that makes it harder to reopen when restaurant industry workers, who are most often not full-time employees due to restaurant traffic patterns, could be earning more with the CERB than they would if they were working.

Restaurants that have reopened elsewhere have also seen staff walk off the job out of fear of infection or the threat of personal harm and abuse from customers who do not take the restrictions seriously. The news is chock-full of stories about security guards (and another), customers and staff at all varieties of establishments being assaulted after confronting customers about failures to abide by distancing rules and mask usage recommendations. This has to have a negative impact on the psyche of our staff, leading to more fear and anxiety than they already felt about COVID-19, itself.

Another scenario has started playing out in areas that have removed restrictions before us: a restaurant reopens, then has to shut down again shortly afterwards. The second shutdown may be caused by:

  • New staff COVID-19 infections.
  • The inability of restaurant staff and owners to maintain a safe environment by enforcing COVID-19-related restrictions on guests.
  • Jurisdictions backtracking and ordering restaurants to close again because they’ve seen a large rise in COVID-19 cases after easing restrictions, such as in many parts of Asia.

If we were forced to close again after bringing a lot of our former staff back in, and hiring/training new staff to handle the combined takeout and dine-in workload, stocking up our kitchen ingredients and supplies, and brewing all the beer inventory required, it would break both our spirit and our bank account. We would not be able to come back from that.

The Guillotine Effect of Honest COVID-19 Reporting by Restaurant Staff

When restaurant staff honestly report a symptomatic infection and test positive for COVID-19, restaurants are typically forced to shut down until all staff can be tested and ruled out as carriers, either by policy or the realties of restaurant staffing patterns and the ultra-lean nature of our operations. As already mentioned, a shutdown is a death sentence to a lot of restaurants right now. We think there are a lot of restaurant staff and owners out there who are practically trembling with fear that someone at their business will test positive for COVID-19 and they will be forced to shut down for good.

A positive COVID-19 test result for restaurant staff should result in the province putting that business on life support to ensure it remains viable until staff are able to return to work and the business can reopen, including putting temporary legal protections in place in the very likely case it cannot pay outstanding payables, rent, loans, etc. It is possible that our province, which is known for its friendly attitude toward business, already has programs like this and we are just ignorant of them (if so, please do let us know in the comments), but if that is the case, nobody seems to know about them and the disincentives against restaurant staff reporting COVID-19 symptoms remain. Honest reporting needs to be rewarded rather than resulting in possible permanent closure of a person’s employer and a permanent loss of those jobs.

Once support for businesses with identified COVID-19 cases is in place, why not also have Alberta Health Services issue mandatory, periodic testing for all food industry workers, with equal priority as with health care workers? Both are considered essential services, and both operate in a realm where contamination between the worker and patients/customers is far more likely than in most other industries, since:

  • Restaurant customers put things in their mouths that restaurant staff have touched beforehand.
  • Restaurant staff have to touch items that customers have put in their mouths beforehand.
  • Restaurant staff interact with dozens, if not hundreds of members of the general public each day in a dine-in scenario.

Lack of Validation

We have all been asked to make substantial changes to our operations and individual behaviour over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve often been provided with conflicting information by health authorities, told at one time that mask use only increases the chance of the wearer becoming infected, then told later that masks are essential, for example.

Over the past few months, food industry businesses have had to do our own independent research to try to assemble information from various internet sources, identifying cleaning agents and sanitation practices that adequately deal with COVID-19, and to restructure processes to minimize cross-contamination between staff and customers. Putting these new practices into place has taken a major toll on workforce efficiency, and created added costs for chemicals, PPE, etc. that was not needed before, and in many cases exposed our staff to increase health risks from chemical exposure.

Up until May 11th, we had not received any substantive guidance from Alberta Health Services (AHS) about COVID-19 mitigation in restaurants, and the May 11 guidance is still quite basic. What we at Prairie Dog hoped to receive was a guide that provides evidence-based best practices and details about chemical choice, preparation, and application for different restaurant scenarios (i.e. bathroom toilet vs. a food preparation surface in the kitchen), at a bare minimum. Those same guidelines would also include information about common trouble spots for viral cross-contamination in restaurants, changes to dish handling procedures to avoid aerosolizing viral particles, recommendations for staff duty segregation to avoid cross contamination between customers, best practices for cash handling, how to handle customers that refuse to comply with distancing requirements, where to source reliable PPE from and how to validate it, etc.

People around the globe are conducting illuminating tests to try to understand and educate the public about cross-contamination and viral transmission in food-service settings, but why isn’t this happening right here in Alberta, with real science behind it? In some areas, scientists are testing sewage at water treatment plants to try to estimate the scope of COVID-19 infection among local populations, and detect early warning signs of increased infection rates as restrictions are eased. We imagine a lot could also be learned by testing a random sampling of used beverage glasses at restaurants and bars (after they are allowed to open), or of soiled-dish spray deposits in restaurant dish areas. It would also be reassuring to see studies that try to glean the transmissibility of COVID-19 through server hand contact, because it is not feasible for a server to wash or sanitize their hands between every single movement of menus, food, beverage, cutlery, and condiments to/from a party’s table.

Chemical companies like Ecolab have released their own guidelines, but they are not endorsed by Alberta Health Services and may conflict with local mandates and AHS policy, so although the manual is a great resource and a head start for us, we shouldn’t have to rely on the advice of a chemical company with no guidance from AHS. This still puts us at risk of non-compliance because we don’t have an outline of what compliance looks like. If there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that chemical companies will always aim to sell chemicals. Maybe there are other options that are equally effective, or even more effective than chemicals?

What’s missing in all of this is any form of validation that what we’re doing is actually working. If we have to double our labour and chemical costs in an effort to try to mitigate viral cross-contamination, we want to know with relative certainty that those changes are truly effective at stopping the transmission of COVID-19 at our establishment.

We know from our brewery experience that the devil is often in the details when it comes to sanitation and preventing microbiological cross-contamination, and a subtle change may be all that is required to go from a pass to a fail, or vice versa. Standardized scientific testing could give us an open-eyed view of how we’re doing and allow us to improve, but as far as we know, there’s nothing being done in Alberta to scientifically validate or refute common restaurant practices in the face of COVID-19, and certainly nothing being done to try to help us keep costs manageable while also safely defeating the virus in our facilities. The general advice is to go for the nuclear option in terms of chemical concentrations, but that’s expensive and damaging to our furniture, facilities and our bodies, so we’d really like to know what is actually required, because surely a 1:9 bleach/water solution is overkill in all but the most extreme of circumstances.

Final Words

As you have seen, a decision as simple as what to do with dirty dishes is mired in challenges and additional costs in the COVID-19 era. PPE is required for a lot of our staff, but which PPE is debatable, and access is limited and undependable. Restaurant earnings have to be high enough to avoid hemorrhaging money and rapidly bankrupting the business with labour costs and other overhead, and that’s really unlikely to happen in a climate of fear and uncertainty, especially with reduced occupancy and physical distancing. Finally, until COVID-19 progresses to a state where our staff can feel safe coming to work and we don’t have to police customer behaviour, and where we have validation to assure that what we are doing is truly adequate to prevent infection, it feels disconcerting to consider opening for dine-in again. Nothing about this situation is ideal, and all of us will have to live in an uncomfortable middle ground for a while, but as you can see, just figuring out what the middle ground looks like is no simple task.

We should be clear that this article is not meant to be a critique of what other businesses are doing. Every business has its own unique circumstances and constraints to work under, and may take novel and unique approaches to the problems listed above that we haven’t thought of. At the moment, some businesses have only two options — reopen now or perish completely. We are in the fortunate position where we have the option to continue focusing on takeout and delivery, and we think that reopening before we’ve sufficiently grappled with these issues would pose an unnecessary risk to our business, staff and customers, so we are waiting until we feel the time is right.

47 comments on Six Frustrating Challenges to Reopening a Restaurant in the COVID-19 Era

  1. Bonny says:

    Thank you for the “insider view of running a business” I whole heartily agree with all of your choices. I applaud you and everyone else involved in this choice. It is best to be cautious than to jump in head first. When dealing with serving food, one must be extra cautious and because food needs to be preordered, one can’t just close the doors overnight. It was unfair of Kenney to wait until the final hours to make the decision for the City of Calgary and Brooks only. I live in Strathmore where the restaurants are allowed to be opened. I, as a patron am still cautious on dining in. In a brewery setting I would expect to mingle with my friends. Take as long as you need to decide when Prairie Dog Brewery will be ready to open. As long as the beer stays flowing, your customers are on your side. Good luck on your reopening when the time is right! (PS I am a front line worker and also have a behind scenes story) 🙂

  2. Gerad Coles says:

    Thanks for your support, Bonny! We are definitely in strange times with a lot of uncertainty, and an abundance of caution seems to be the way to move forward. And yes, it was really unfortunate that all those restaurants trying to reopen on the 14th had to find out less than 24-hours beforehand that they would not be allowed to open. We can only imagine how difficult that situation would be for both the owners and all of their staff. This seems to be another example for why a cautious approach — waiting to reopen until a while has passed after the restrictions are lifted — is probably a good choice. We have no guarantee that the province won’t put the restrictions back in place after we open our doors again, should the number of COVID-19 cases start skyrocketing, like what happened in Asia.

  3. carol Sadler says:

    A super analysis and wise words, Gerad – many thanks

  4. Heathyr Chan says:

    Thank you so much for this. I am also a business owner and am afraid of ramifications due to customers believing I am taking a political stance when it comes to re-opening/waiting to re-open the restaurant. I think your transparency is something to be commended for in this article, and I appreciate that you have pointed out that this is a BUSINESS decision, and not a political one. As a restaurant owner, I had no intention of re-opening on the 14th, or the 25th, but when we are ready. I am unclear of the ever-changing guidelines that the government puts into place, but more importantly, I am unknown to the attitudes of people re-integrating themselves, or the travel of the disease during re-integration.

    We have not closed a single day, but delivery/takeout materials are at a high cost, alongside with the delivery charge themselves (25%-30%) and a high carbon footprint. The landlord only deferred the rent/util. for one month (March) and immediately asked for a payback (starting April), increasing our fixed cost of operations. I hope that more people immerse themselves in articles such as this. It would be humanizing for those not in the industry.

  5. Clayton says:

    Thank you Gerad. Your analysis is outstanding and gives actionable items for governments to pursue.

    I have forwarded this to the health minister (AB), and several federal MPs

  6. Gerad Coles says:

    Heathyr, it was great hearing from you! It’s so sad to hear that you think people may politicize your decision as a business owner to stay closed. We really hope our article helps more people understand how much careful consideration a restauranteur has to put behind the decision to stay closed or to reopen. From the outside, there can be so much misinformation/misunderstanding. For example, many people assume that we’ve received rent protection from our landlords like individual citizens have, not understanding that businesses were specifically excluded from those protections. This is an area of concern for us, as well, as we have not been able to negotiate any form of rent reduction with our landlord, either, but we also understand that they are also in a similar position with their business.

    Like you, we also see the increased cost of delivery/takeout both from the materials and the fees charged by the services, and it hurts. We do certainly look forward to a future day where we can finally put this behind us, but who knows when that will be. For now we will just do our best to put out the best food and beer we can and take care of our staff.

  7. Excellent! As a fellow hospitality business owner we made the difficult decision to temporarily shutter all of our operations. Our business model allows that decision , your thoughtful explanation will hopefully enlighten the public’s perceived perception of the restaurant industry. So well done, thank you.

  8. Jim Webster says:

    I no longer live in calgary and haven’t eaten at your Resturaunt but if this is any indication of the thought you put into your business, I would look forward to the opportunity of dining there in the future, however that evolves. Thank you.

  9. Andrew says:

    Major respect to you for laying it out and helping me, an average non-business owner, understand what it takes to do this work. I hope you’re able to hold out and make it to the day we can get close to normal again. And when that day comes, I’ll be visiting!

  10. Simon says:

    Amazing article! It is helping so much. Thanks from a fellow restaurant owner on Vancouver Island.

  11. Jenn says:

    Thanks very much for taking the time to write this. It was very helpful.

  12. Qyn says:

    WOW. I honestly didn’t know too much about Prairie Dog before reading this article (I’ve visited the brewpub once and had a pleasant experience) but I have gained a new respect for the ownership team. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that a company that is transparent about their wage policy would be so thoughtful in their approach to reopening, but as I devoured this post I was constantly impressed by the fulsome thinking that is clearly going on.

    Well-written, well-sourced, and in my opinion well balanced as well with both applauding and (fairly, also in my opinion) criticizing the government’s handling of this crisis. I know I’ll be rewarding you with my takeout business in the near future, and I also know that when you reopen you’ll be at the top of my list for places I’ll feel safe enjoying a meal away from home.

  13. Sidsel says:

    What a great article, explaining the many facets of trying to re-open a restaurant in these times. Both my daughters work(ed) at a restaurant and we are all asking these questions. Nice with a bit context now!
    All the best – we are hoping that a relaunch is possible and that customers/employees all can remain safe and social!!

  14. Kim says:

    This was more thorough, well thought out and articulated than any article I’ve read on the restaurant industry’s hurdles in the era of covid. I’d love to see restaurants band together to make a case to the federal government what a necessity it is to assist restaurants to stay in business as your businesses are vital to the social fabric of our society. I wish you all the best and will be ordering from you and spreading the word. Cheers to you.

  15. Uncle Bob says:

    This is an incredibly enlightening article, thank you. I hope it is very widely read. The obvious intelligence, care and time you have invested make me want to become a customer! I hope you survive this period and go on to thrive.

  16. Dan says:

    Wow!!! What an amazing and informative post. I myself have owned a small takeout restaurant and understand many of the issues that you mentioned. Not to mention the additional issues a sit down restaurant has.

    This post should be everywhere so that people who have not owned a food operation can understand the real costs and issues that restaurant owners have to deal with. I LOVE how honest you have been with your costs and expenses. Often the general public does not understand how expensive it really is to run a restaurant and how low the profit margin is.

    I applaud your decisions to keep as many people as safe as possible and I hope that you guys make it through this.

  17. Bryn says:

    Mr. Coles, I just wanted to reach out and thank you for taking the time to write such an in-depth article outlining all of the challenges that small business face in these uncertain times. Your analysis provided some vital perspective that has increased my understanding of some of those challenges and I will make sure to be spreading this article to anyone I think may be interested. I will also be sure to support you guys by ordering takeout for now and stopping in whenever you decide is the appropriate time to open your doors.

  18. Gary says:

    Hi Gerad. We have been a supporter of Prairie Dog since it opened and have had the pleasure of meeting the owners. So for those reading these comments let me share the respect we have for them and their operations including their progressive operating principles and the quality of their food & beverages. Us customers must come to understand the ‘value’ and the ‘experience’ we pay for in dining at these establishments. We have to adjust our thinking to think about ‘fair value exchange’ and do our part to pay ‘fairly’ to these businesses. We should be willing and able to pay more. Support local. Let’s personally cut back on non-essential non local purchases to make up for it. We live more and more in the ‘experience’ economy and eating out is an experience. Let’s do the right thing and support our local businesses/experiences better.


  19. Zed says:

    Bravo! Extremely well written and thought out!
    Firstly, as the old saying goes “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. I truly hope that the World, Canada, our provinces, our cities and more importantly our communities will galvanize to understand that there is no quick fix for a virus like Covid-19. It is really important to isolate it quickly as to be able to track and trace it vs. where we are now with self reporting. Many businesses, not only restaurants / bars like Prairie Dog Brewing are in a terrible situation and as empathetic as we as regular patrons, there are still many uncertain aspects as pointed out in the above post.

    Re: dishwashing, it may be time for all restaurants to come together, going against our usual goal of re-usable plates/cutlery etc. and use only disposables for the time being until this virus is under much greater control. Banding together, not buying branded , but simply generic, there should be a way to bring the cost down with an industry buy of the million pieces needed daily for restaurants across each province. Most importantly, people have to understand this exception (return to disposable everything) based on the situation at hand.

    Lastly, one way or another, “the Static Overhead” must come down and likely for the next 5 years for all businesses to be able to return to even a new normalcy of operation. All of the costs mentioned, starting with Rent / Lease / Loan, through Legal, Licensing, Inspections and software are already absurd prior to Covid-19. They are absolutely astonishing today, based on what we are all going through with this virus. Governments need to erect watchdogs to monitor “the cost of doing business” and ensure that small businesses are not being gouged by costs that have very little to do with the operation of the business.

  20. David owen says:

    This article echos everything that I have been contemplating since bc announced a reopening date. Sooo many people asking about us reopening with little thought or knowledge as to what it takes to make it happen. Would be great to get this out to the general public ( not sure how that happens) to alleviate some of the pressure restaurant owners feel. We will remain closed for sit down dining, have provided a ‘picnic’ area ( takeout packaging, no table service) and will be taking a very slow and cautious approach. Thanks for your candour and insight. Hope this makes it way to the general dining public

  21. Malcolm Jenkins says:

    Thank you so much for this excellent informative article. I wish you all the best.

  22. Lisa Litz says:

    This was eye-opening! Thank you so much for taking the time to educate folks like me! I had no idea what you and other restaurants were going through.

    Hang in there guys!

  23. Bernice Sprague says:

    A very good outline of not just how this virus is affecting the food industry but also other businesses. My daughter has a small cafe and is planning to keep to just take out or delivery. The government hasn’t given enough info about how to deal with the situation. I suspect the government is “flying by the seat of their pants” as we all are, more or less. For the restaurants who are stuck with produce ordered which will now spoil, could they make up hampers and have curbside pick up by people who would be happy to get what’s in each hamper or who want to support their favourite establishment? Would there be issues with AHS re this idea?

  24. Jim Prokop says:

    An in-depth well written article Gerad.
    Some great insight.
    I look forward to enjoying another great meal along with a pint of your fantastic beer!

  25. Gerad Coles says:

    Thanks Bernice! Great idea about the food hampers, I’m honestly not really sure if that would be a problem or not. Many restaurants are already starting pop-up grocery stores and the like, so I think it would probably work well.

  26. Carla tree says:

    My heart goes out to you and all the other small business owners who we as a society expect to sacrifice your own financial security to ensure the survival of what is no longer a business but a labour of love. Capitalism in the best of times puts all the risk on your shoulders and if a magical nickel is your reward in the good times bless you for keeping going in the face of all the stress and uncertainty.

  27. Myles says:

    Wow this is a fantastic analysis at the real situation of what the actual re-opening looks like in Alberta. As someone who worked in restaurants as early jobs, and who runs their own business now, I can sympathize at the myriad of brain bending challenges that represent a safe-reopening. It’s one thing to declare a re-opening. It’s entirely another to manage the practical details of a safe effective launch while navigating the line of financial strain, psychological strain, and uncertainty of information.

    Do what you need to do to manage and we will all keep working towards finding the right path forward, together. Sending love from Edmonton!

  28. Mayowa Rosanwo says:

    Brilliant analysis Gerad! Love and support goes out to the restaurant industry and other small businesses dealing with this. We will get through this!

  29. A. Cole says:

    Just a suggestion relating to your dirty dish handling. Instead of spraying each dirty dish/glass/utensil off with water and aerosolizing virulent particles, why not after scraping off food waste, plunge said dishes etc. into a bleach/water solution to soak for a few minutes before rinsing?

  30. Elizabeth Parfitt says:

    We only wear N95s in health care if we are managing airways or doing other aerosol generating procedures. I agree that workers who are exposed to many patrons should probably wear a proper surgical mask rather than a cloth mask though, but probably the N95 part is overblown. It is very hard to wear an N95 for a whole shift and requires special fit testing. Since us health care workers only out on an N95 for specific procedures done in patients that might have COVID I don’t think it’s necessary for restaurant workers to need them. The clientele *should* not have symptoms either hopefully people will be compliant with staying home when sick. I doubt there is any good evidence spraying dishes creates aerosols that are capable of leading to infection, but the splashing around of droplets is a point well taken.
    Good luck! This is a challenging time.

  31. Gerad Coles says:

    Thanks for your suggestion! This is along the lines of what we’re talking about trying to switch to, but we do not have a sink that would work for “plunging” in our dish area prior to the dishwasher in the flow of things, only our sprayer sink, which is not very large or very deep, and not designed for straining out the food particulate that would result (we have a large strainer insert but it provides even less depth for submerging dishes), so we are talking about adding “sinks” that are outside of the regular dish area for pre-rinsing plates. They will have to be something like large Cambro or Rubbermaid totes, or laundry-style sinks, filled with 10-20 gallons of sanitizer. All the dishes go in those “sinks” to pre-soak. Scrubbing off is still a bit of a challenge but we’ll work it out. Either way, it’s just not going to work particularly great from a labour or efficiency perspective compared with what we did before. But we will figure it out, surely.

  32. Gerad Coles says:

    Definitely we agree that it’s hard to wear N95 for a long time. During our construction phase, we would wear N95 masks for 12-16 hours a day and it was hot and uncomfortable, but it was a lot better than the alternative (sawdust, silica, and gypsum dust in the lungs). But a surgical mask, by the research, doesn’t do a whole lot to filter the air for the person wearing it (yes, it is better than nothing). The primary benefits of that type of mask come when the wearer is symptomatic because it acts as a physical barrier to the larger droplets that are expelled when people cough or sneeze, but it is a very poor filter for aerosols (regular breathing, talking). I linked to a few sources in the post but a Google search finds many studies that back up that argument, plus the advice of the CDC, WHO, and Health Canada, which all agree with us about the fact that these masks do not protect the wearer, only those around them.

    It sounds like you are saying you only wear N95 in a medical setting when you suspect that a patient could have COVID-19, but that’s sort of the entire point of the distancing measures, right, to assume that every person has COVID-19 and take precautions? And if, as the research suggests, asymptomatic carriers are shedding the virus primarily in the form of bioaerosols, and there are likely far more asymptomatic carriers than are indicated by the provincial testing numbers, because they suffered from selection bias (we would need testing of a large, random, representative sample of the population before we would have any idea of how much of this is out there — other places that have done this are seeing numbers in the tens of percent of their total population).

    If you imagine for a second, our dining room, which has an occupancy of 298, only filled 1/3rd, with 100 seats. If even 10% of the population were asymptomatic, that’s 10 customers spread around our dining room that could be shedding the virus. That’s 10 more than we’re comfortable with exposing our servers to without having the right PPE. And while many would say, “oh, but your staff are young and they’d probably be fine”, as I feel we made clear in the post, regardless of the health risk, if any one of our staff are found to have COVID-19, it would very likely be the end of our business, the loss of 30 jobs, and personal bankruptcy for both of our families that started this business, due to a second shutdown that we simply can’t afford.

  33. Matt says:

    Impressively complete view of the decisions you’re wrestling with. Much appreciated. Gonna order some Prairie Dog takeout this week.

  34. Stephanie says:

    Thank you so much for outlining the issue with so much clarity and transparency. Every single consumer should read this, to understand the ramifications for all restaurants, whether they open or not. We, as consumers, can get very selfish about our desire to return to normal, without thinking about the consequences for the restaurants and their staff. Thank you for taking the time to outline this critical information. I am sharing it with everyone I know. Good luck with the next few weeks. I am hoping that our curve stays flattened, and essential workers of all types stay healthy.

  35. Matt says:

    I don’t know if it’s helpful to brainstorm, or if it just gets in the way. Feel free to disregard…

    I have a partial solution to the dishes issue.

    1 – Use a large two handed tray (large rectangle), with a 1″ lip around the sides and back but not the front. This is for customers to bus their own tables when the server arrives. Tables are served as normal (plates are clean when they leave the kitchen), this is for dish recovery only. Customers touch their own dirty dishes only, not the handles to the tray (which are wide, and on the sides). That way the server is not touching used dishes that may be contaminated. This mostly just saves on glove use.

    2 – Have a large basin (extra sink or just an extra tub on a counter) filled with water and high concentrated sanitizer (bleach or whatnot). The tray is unloaded into this basin by tipping the whole tray into it (hence no front lip, dishes can slide right off into the water when tipped). A pump could be used to circulate the sanitizer more aggressively. Pay attention to dwell time (i.e. in some cases, you can’t use twice the concentration for half as long, there’s minimum dwell time. It might even be 20 minutes to be super thorough, as it is to sanitize donated face shield headbands). This means that the server never touches potentially contaminated dishes at any point. They are loaded, then dumped into the basin, hands-free. for that matter, once the dishes are dumped, the tray itself can be tossed into the basin too and a new one retrieved.

    3 – After an appropriate amount of time, remove dishes from the basin and wash as normal. The sanitizer will have chemically destroyed the virus particles, so there is no aerosolization issue washing as normal after, as any particles that become misted are already deactivated. It also removes special concerns about handling the dishes as they’re being washed, PPE issues for gloves/masks/eye protection, etc.

    This functionally just inserts a new step into the dish washing process. To streamline it, you could have 3 tubs. Let’s say the recommended dwell time is 20 minutes. Put a clock behind them that’s visible to their approach. If it’s 0-20 of the hour, Tub1. If it’s 21-40 of the hour, Tub2. If it’s 41-60 of the hour, Tub3. Dishes are only removed from a tub after you’ve moved down at least 2 tubs, meaning at least 20 minutes has elapsed (some dishes in that load might’ve been in there up to 40 minutes, but none less than 20). An alarm goes off, and it’s someone’s job to take the proper tub to the wash station to wash as normal then return. Every 20 minutes.

    Or, have a shuffle system. 3 tubs on wheels. All new dishes get added to the last tub, and all 3 tubs slide over once every 20 minutes, when someone takes the tub and brings it to the normal wash area, empties it, and throws it to the back of the line again. Whatever, just procedural suggestions, if you get the point you can find what works for you.

    Some complications/limitations:

    A – How do you deal with garbage? Food scraps and napkins? The sanitizer tubs are going to get disgusting pretty quick. Maybe that just means you waste more water and bleach, and you drain the tub every couple of cycles. Oh well. Another option is a bit contraption-y, but just a linkage… have a fixed mounted grabber claw vertically over a trash bin, pointed down. If customers were asked to put garbage on top, server can walk over to the claw, lift their tray until the trash is under it, and use a foot pedal to close the claw. Then drop the tray an inch and back up, withdrawing the tray from blocking the garbage below, and release the foot pedal. You might have to stomp 3 or 4 time per table to pick up the napkins and such. Clumsy, but, it’s a solution for paper garbage, not really food garbage. Another option is to have 2 horizontal stainless tines about 6″ apart, about 4″ above the sanitizer basin instead of the garbage. Have this drop (tip down) when a foot pedal is pressed. Servers could use this to lift single plates or bowls off of a stack, to get at garbage in between plates. So they’d toggle between these tines, and then turn 90 degrees and use the grabber claw over a garbage can station. The garbage station could have a fixed stainless horizontal rod mounted, that you’d use to brush food waste off the plates the same way you do after a meal with a spare knife or whatnot. Only you’d be moving the tray past the fixed rod.

    Two awful stick figure diagrams: – Garbage claw – Tines to lift single dishes off, if you need access to garbage between layers.

    Alternatively… you could also have a garbage/foodscraps plate and ask customers to scrap their plates onto that, but, I think getting customers to bus their own dishes onto your tray is already pushing it. It’s a bit trashy to ask them to wipe food scraps off.

    B – It takes up space. Is there room in the kitchen?

    C – It takes extra time, servers are busy enough slinging dishes in normal times.

    As I said, it’s a partial solution, kinda janky unless you want to be going through lots of water and bleach. But the sanitizing basin thing would fix many problems for only the cost of a few tubs and a little process change. It would mean 0% contact risk for servers touching contaminated dishware.

    You know your own processes better than anyone, maybe you can figure something out that would help be part of the solution.

  36. info says:

    Terrific article! That is the kind of info that are supposed to be shared around the internet.

    Disgrace on the search engines for no longer positioning this put up upper!
    Come on over and talk over with my website .
    Thanks =)

  37. Fantastic article. I’m a business owner of a fitness studio and we will be facing these similar issues eventually. Thank you for sharing with the public so they have a better understanding when heartbreaking decisions have to be made.

  38. Shannon says:

    I’m also from the industry and can’t believe no one is talking about the washrooms! I mean, are we supposed to hire someone to clean the washrooms after every customer? And what about the Heath of that cleaner? Ugh. So many things to think about, it makes my head spin.

  39. Chloe L says:

    Amazing breakdown of the issues faced, thank you for taking the time to write this all down and I wish nothing but the best for you and your staff and business. Fingers crossed for better government guidelines for the future, wish there was more I could do than that!

  40. Shan says:


    Random comment from Ontario. Best of luck. Writing this will probably do much for the greater good. I think the best thing is for government to protect/insure everyone in every line of work and just ride it out until either there’s a vaccine or until we can all agree to just accept whatever health risk it entails. Making extreme changes to what is a cultural experience, like dining, and expecting it to work out magically is just not going to happen. The very wealthy need to be taxed accordingly to fund this. Owners like yourselves need to be backed up with a wage subsidy too. Trying to come back to a restaurant with the hassle of airport-like screening, hospital-like sterilization and army-like instruction just won’t be an experience worth the trouble.


  41. Randall Rae says:

    Excellent description of the myriad of issues facing restaurants dealing with COVID-19. This article from Nature may be have some reassurance.

  42. Gerad Coles says:

    Great share, Randall, we’ll definitely read through this!

  43. Phil says:

    I can not think of a tougher business to be in today than a restaurant. I do not know if staff masks are going actually be of any medical help, but because of recent media be expected by the customer. We are being led to believe that they are to protect others.
    Negitive print is hard to read.

  44. Chris T says:

    “In Alberta, however, our distancing measures and early response to the pandemic led to far fewer cases than initially feared, ” This is a strong statement. We know we are way below the projections. We do NOT KNOW why. We can take educated guesses.
    Also “COVID-19 infections in Alberta by zone up to May 12, 2020. Calgary takes a massive lead in infection rates. Our curve is still quite steep and has not levelled off as it has in other areas.” Calgary has had MUCH stronger and more inclusive efforts regarding testing. The more you search a field for gold nuggets, the more you will find. It does not mean the field has more gold nuggets than one that is not being searched very well. Nor does it mean more nuggets are being produced daily. It does NOT necessarily mean the number of cases is increasing. It means the detection and reporting of them is increasing. Pay attention to the number of ICU patients, and deaths. Those numbers are MUCH more valuable than the number of cases. And of course, we are already seeing that many death reports are citing Covid, when it may just be temporal, vs causal.

  45. Hillary says:

    I think it’s too soon to open restaurants and agree that there is a lot to have to work around. I do however disagree with your comment about staff needing N95 masks. If the surgical masks are good enough for hospital staff to use when in rooms with COVID + patients (as long as we aren’t doing an aerosol-generating procedure (AGP)), then why are they not good enough for restaurant staff to use with the general public who may or may not be COVID + ?

    Here is a list of AGPs:
    • Airway Surgeries (e.g., ENT, thoracic, transsphenoidal surgeries)
    • Intubation
    • Extubation
    • Chest Compressions
    • Nebulization
    • High flow oxygen, including nasal canula, at > 15L
    • Non-invasive positive pressure ventilation (e.g. CPAP, BIPAP)
    • Oscillatory ventilation
    • Bronchoscopy
    • Sputum induction
    • Open suctioning of tracheostomy
    • Tracheostomy change
    • Manual ventilation (e.g. manual bag-mask ventilation before intubation)
    • Disconnecting patient from ventilator
    • Upper endoscopy (including transesophageal echocardiogram)
    • Lower endoscopy
    • Chest physical therapy
    • Venturi mask with cool aerosol humidification
    • Mechanical In-Exsufflator (MIE)
    • Ventilator circuit manipulation

  46. VOX says:

    Nice write up and many of the challenges are shared with other business owners even outside of the restaurant/service industry as well. The numbers don’t work in many cases and there is a lot of uncertainty about consumer appetite. Likewise, my personal cashlow was being done through a shareholder loan repayment from a private corporation as well so very much in the same boat with respect to lack of eligibility for any benefits, I am taking this as a lesson and will restructure how I flow the cash from the corporation to myself in the future (if the corporation has a future).

    I did want to comment that the one aspect of your write-up that seemed off was the entire diatribe about masks. While the rest of what you wrote seemed to come from astutely studying the economics of your business I got the sense that you basically don’t believe the recommendation or advice of government and health officials. Given that, I am glad you have elected to remain closed. In the scheme of your operating costs, I don’t think use of appropriate PPE is a substantive addition.

    Thanks for a detailed write-up. I feel you have astutely assessed the situation and arrived at the right decision. You don’t need to rationalize it to anyone.

  47. Gerad Coles says:

    VOX, it is not that we don’t believe the advice of government or health officials — it is that they give conflicting information that appears to put our staff at an elevated risk. Health Canada clearly states that a cloth mask is no substitute for distancing, as well as the world health organization, and the CDC, but the Alberta guidelines specifically recommend them for restaurant staff as a substitute for maintaining 2 meters of distance. So who are we to trust here, because it is a life or death decision in many ways.

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