The Manitoba government announced $5 million in support for dine-in restaurants that had to switch to pick-up and delivery because of red-level COVID-19 restrictions.
The Manitoba Chambers of Commerce and Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association will develop a financial relief program for dine-in restaurants that had to adapt their operations due to the move to red level, or critical, restrictions under Manitoba’s pandemic response system, Premier Brian Pallister said Tuesday.
“Many restaurants throughout Manitoba have shifted from a dine-in model over to a pickup and delivery to serve the public,” said Pallister, adding that the shift comes at an added cost.
“By shifting this way, they’ve encouraged greater safety, they’ve assisted Manitoba customers in staying home rather than going out — which is good.”
Winnipeg was put under red level restrictions on Nov. 2. As a result, restaurants in the city were forced to resort to pick-up and delivery only, as dine-in service was prohibited under the public health order.
But as of 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 12, all other restaurants in Manitoba could also no longer offer dine-in service.
The program will give a rebate payment to eligible restaurants that are primarily dine-in and made the switch, Pallister said.
The rebate aims to offset additional costs related to food-delivery services, whether a restaurant delivers on its own or uses a third-party delivery company, such as Skip the Dishes or Door Dash.
Rebate is welcome news
“We welcome this additional support to keep our restaurateurs’ spirits up during this holiday season,” Shaun Jeffrey, executive director of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association, said in a news release about the program.
“We look forward to working with all the partners involved to get these supports to the businesses that need them the most, while supporting them as they rely on this lone revenue stream to keep them viable in the future.”
In November, the province announced a bridge grant for non-profits and small- and medium-sized businesses forced to close by the pandemic restrictions, saying it would provide $5,000 before Christmas to businesses that apply, with the possibility of another $5,000 in the new year if necessary.
Restaurants can still receive the new rebate, even if their application for the bridge grant program was approved.
The rebate is also welcome news to dine-in restaurant owners. Mandel Hitzer, owner of Deer + Almond in Winnipeg’s Exchange District, said he lost about 73 per cent of sales compared to a year ago, and most of his staff isn’t getting hours.
“It has been hard being a business owner — especially downtown — to find a voice during these hard times,” said Hitzer.
“Any kind of support is awesome. Even if it’s only a couple of grand, whether it’s helping to get through a month’s rent or whatever.”
Miss Christine’s Kitchen, a one-woman operation that serves authentic Jamaican street food, lost half her business when dine-in was prohibited, said owner Christine Pattison.
The restaurant, located in the Dufresne area, has been able to stay afloat because of its low overhead costs and the new customers it gets every day, said Pattison. But the switch to delivery still made things trickier.
Pattison was originally paying two delivery drivers $15 per hour, and had to turn down some orders because the addresses were too far away from the restaurant.
“I was feeling it,” she said.
The rebate will help cover a month’s rent, delivery costs and some other expenses, said Pattison.
“I’m happy all the way around,” she said. “I feel bad for people who have bigger overhead than myself. I know $2,000 won’t go very far for them. But it’s still $2,000 that they never had.”
Under the latest provincial restrictions, which are in place until at least Jan. 8, non-essential businesses have had to shut down to in-person shopping, and the sale of non-essential items in other stores is prohibited.
There is no decision on whether the level red restrictions will be extended as of yet. But when asked if there is a possibility of Manitobans to be allowed to eat in restaurants again in the new year, Pallister noted the recent decrease in cases and urged Manitobans to keep following public health orders.
Manitoba public health officials announced 155 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, which is an even lower increase than Monday.
But 18 more COVID-19 deaths were also announced, most of which were linked to outbreaks at care homes. There have now been 590 COVID-19 deaths in Manitoba.
Premier warns First Nations to stay vigilant
During Tuesday’s news conference, Pallister said there may be an announcement coming Wednesday about vaccine distribution to First Nations in Manitoba. But he also warned First Nations leaders to not get complacent against COVID-19, despite some good news.
“We’re all excited about the vaccines,” he said. “But I would not want people to relax too soon.”
COVID-19 outbreaks on First Nations have been a serious issue during Manitoba’s second wave of the pandemic. As of Dec. 22, there are 1,300 known active COVID-19 cases and 26 COVID-19 deaths on reserve, according to the latest briefing issued by the Manitoba First Nations COVID-19 Pandemic Response Coordination Team.
Yet Peguis First Nation announced earlier this month that it will be allowing holiday gatherings on reserve.
“I’m disappointed that [an Indigenous leader] would relax and celebrate an accomplishment when we’re in the middle of a battle here,” said Pallister Tuesday, adding that the move encourages non-essential travel and could undermine the progress made so far in that community.
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