‘It’s unfair’: Short notice of province’s liquor sale cut-off leaves restaurants scrambling on New Year’s Eve

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Restaurants and pubs are being forced to make last minute changes to their New Year's Eve plans due to a new public health order.

Restaurants and pubs all across B.C. are being forced to make last-minute changes to their New Year’s Eve plans due to a new temporary public health order issued Wednesday.

The new temporary order mandates all restaurants, pubs and liquor stores to stop selling or serving alcohol beginning at 8 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, until 9 a.m. on Jan. 1.

“I feel like I just got hit by a truck,” said Kelsey Mitchell, general manager of Cafe Mexico. “Over a month we’ve been preparing for this, every minute of every day.”

Their original plan was to have a toast welcoming in 2021 just before 10 p.m., coinciding with Mexico’s new year. Instead, Mitchell said they will just do several toasts throughout the day so all customers can say goodbye to 2020.

Bars will be required to close at 9 p.m. while restaurants will be allowed to continue with meal service, provided they stop selling alcohol at 8 p.m.

“What can begin as a quiet dinner with household can too easily get out of control and sadly we have seen that happen even in the past few weeks,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer, on Thursday.

READ MORE: B.C. temporarily bans alcohol sales on New Year’s Eve, reports 485 new COVID-19 cases

But with the order being issued just a day before one of the biggest paydays of the year for the food industry, many restaurants have been left scrambling.

“It’s very hard when we’re trying to fight our way through all this and at the drop of a hat, say ‘oops, sorry,'” said Dimitri Adamopoulos, from family-owned Ithaka Greek Restaurant.

“Everyone’s concern is about the customer’s safety,” he added, “but I think it’s unfair. Twenty-four hours before a night [that is] usually — although it’s going to be toned down — a good night for business, you’re now given these sudden changes.”

Adamopoulos said if they had been given some more notice, they would have happily worked around it because customer safety is the priority.

The announcement took many by surprise, including the BC Restaurant and Food Services Association (BCRFA), which has worked with the provincial government in the past on regulations affecting the industry.

“Had we been brought into this earlier, we could have come up with some good ideas on how to achieve the health objective but also the objective of our industry, which is to try to recover some sales,” said Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the BCRFA, noting business has been down significantly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

READ MORE: Victoria bars and restaurants bracing for a New Year’s Eve let down

Dr. Bonnie Henry, however, said she did consult with people in the industry and it’s something that she’d been thinking about for some while.

“We’ve been, obviously, signalling for some time about issues around New Year’s Eve and the holiday season, so I don’t think this came out of the blue in that respect,” she said.

But the last-minute change has generated a huge cost for businesses that now have too much product that can’t be returned.

“No notice is costing these restaurants so much money,” Mitchell said, and that includes Cafe Mexico. “We can’t return the food, it’s already been prepared. We can’t return the alcohol. At what point are we going to see that money back?”

Jasmine BalaJasmine Bala

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