Bar owner, restaurateur lament new Manitoba liquor sale, capacity restrictions

It’s not shaping up to be a happy new year once again for bar owners and restaurateurs in Manitoba, after the province introduced new public health restrictions that further cap gathering sizes and put the sale of alcohol on a curfew. 

“Well New Year’s can’t happen,” said Christian Stringer, owner and general manager of the Palomino Club on Main Street in Winnipeg. 

“We know that for a lot of businesses, that’s one of the main things. Restaurants, all premises, places are affected by it.”

Monday, the province issued updated restrictions stating public gatherings must not exceed 50 per cent of the usual capacity of a space, or 250 people, whichever is less. 

The restrictions affect all indoor and outdoor gatherings, including religious gatherings, cultural events, theatres, restaurants, bars, museums and art galleries, sporting and recreational facilities, gyms, and indoor and outdoor ticketed sporting events.

Liquor sales must also end at 10 p.m.

The new restrictions are aimed at curbing a spike in COVID-19 case counts as the province contends with the highly-contagious Omicron variant. The orders are currently in place until Jan. 11. 

The Palomino Club’s maximum capacity has been essentially cut in half by the new rules, Stringer told CBC on Monday.

“It’s a big impact,” he said. 

Stringer said he has cancelled a live band booked for New Year’s Eve and may have to lay off staff. He said he’s considering opening the bar from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. to try and make back some business. 

East India Company co-owner Sachit Mehra says while his restaurant can weather the loss of capacity due to new public health restrictions, other businesses may not be able to. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Sachit Mehra, owner of the East India Company restaurant on York Avenue in downtown Winnipeg, called the new capacity rules “devastating.” 

“We need to be able to have every seat and every table available so that we can continue to pay our rent and keep our staff on board,” he said.

While he said his business is positioned to weather the restrictions, he fears some other businesses will not be able to survive them.

Any restrictions have an impact, Mehra said. 

“It boils down to people’s confidence, the public’s confidence about being able to go out to restaurants, feeling secure in the different environment. Anytime there’s a new version of a restriction or capacity limit … it impacts that confidence,” he said. 

While his restaurant has more than 180 seats and can adjust to the new rules, being forced to cut capacity doesn’t trigger a reduction in operating costs and rent, Mehra said. 

“We cringe every time there’s a new restriction but at the same time we’re here to support the public health orders,” Mehra said. “The safety of our staff and our guests is paramount.”

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