LAC LA BICHE - Restaurants across the Lakeland are serving up a variety of ways to serve their customers while being under new pandemic restrictions. And over the last week, municipal leaders have also stepped up to the plate to assist local eateries.
A handful of Bonnyville eateries received a picnic-table sized leg-up from their municipal leaders and the Chamber of Commerce last week as restaurants around the region cope with a third shutdown of indoor dinning province-wide. A solution to the restrictions on indoor dining, it seems, is outdoor dining.
Restaurants across the Lakeland and the province are now expanding outdoor patio areas and creating new ones. In many cases, municipal leaders in the area have loosened permit restrictions and even offered furnishings.
In efforts to reduce financial burdens felt by an already struggling food and beverage industry, municipal and economic development officials in the Bonnyville and Lac La Biche regions have waived this year’s fees to local eateries for patio permits. The permits cost around $100.
According to Serina Parsons, the executive director of the Bonnyville Chamber of Commerce, municipalities are streamlining their processes making it easier for businesses to obtain patio permits and to expand existing outdoor seating.
“Basically, what we said is: if you have a parking lot, you have a patio.”
Costs are still a concern
But as Raj Chatterjee, chef and owner of Costa Café in downtown Lac La Biche notes, not all businesses are on a level playing field.
Chatterjee sees outdoor dining as an additional cost placed on restaurants during a time when many are falling short of breaking even. Being one of the few eateries opting out of patio dining. Chatterjee says his café located in Lac La Biche will be sticking with current takeout services only.
“Patio season is very short in Lac La Biche... It’s not a fruitful investment from a small business perspective. We would have to invest in the patio chairs, tables and umbrellas.”
Carrying the cost of additional cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment and infrastructure, businesses are now having to dish out more funds for outdoor operations just to keep up with rapidly changing public health orders.
It was this additional burden that sparked the Bonnyville municipal officials and their Chamber of Commerce to rollout a limited picnic table project to provide local businesses with a limited supply of outdoor furniture.
"We didn't want restaurants to have that cost,” said Parsons, explaining that the Chamber worked with the municipal officials to obtain and lend out approximately 20 tables on a first-come-come-first-serve basis, helping businesses shift quickly to patio dining.
“We wanted to make sure that everything was done in accordance with all regular permitting policies, but done quickly, efficiently, and at no cost to our local businesses … Word spread and the picnic tables were all spoken for within a couple of days,” she added.
Nora Kamaleddine, the owner of Bonnyville’s Lakeland Grill says she was pleased to get a permit to turn the sidewalk outside her storefront into a small patio — but with only a few feet of actual store frontage along Bonnyville’s 50 Avenue main street, she didn’t have the space to utilize the picnic tables offered.
Instead, Kamaleddine borrowed smaller tables and chairs from the business’s sister company Nick’s Lounge. That business was able to able to share patio furniture because they had been among the few who received tables from the town.
She's thankful of the help, but says it’s no substitute for indoor dining.
“People do want to support you — but it is weather-permitting.”
Kamaleddine says her pop-up patio won’t allow her business to recoup the losses it has incurred throughout the previous shutdowns — but she hopes it will allow the grill to break even.
“I'm hoping this isn't going to last long, then we can open our doors.”
The feelings of frustration and hopelessness are palpable among business owners, reports the Bonnyville Chamber of Commerce office boss. But adds that the resiliency is making the local business community stronger.
“We're in the homestretch, we can see the finish line. And while we may not understand or fully agree with restrictions imposed by our current government. They are the ones with every piece of information. So, it's important that we do try to adhere to that.”
Restaurants in and around the Lakeland are offering a variety of options for their customers. Information, location and contacts for restaurants can be found on the online directory in each community.
While recent weather conditions over much of the region haven't favoured out-door dining, the coming forecast for the Lakeland shows an improvement in daytime temperatures.
At the time of this story, provincial regulators were considering further restrictions as case numbers of the COVID-19 virus continue to rise across the province, and the Lakeland.