Shortly after Alberta's prime minister announced that tighter public health restrictions would return to the province, Adam Stoyko went through his mental checklist.
As a co-owner of Edmonton's High Level Diner, Stoyko already knew he would have to terminate a contract with restaurant cleaners, lay off some of the wait staff, and change his menu plans to be take-out compatible.
It is the third time since the COVID-19 pandemic began that the Alberta government has told restaurants and bars not to let customers into their stores.
Fitness centers and gyms are also forced to cancel group classes or unsupervised workouts, and libraries are also closing their doors to users.
Without these steps and with the increase in highly contagious varieties of concerns, Alberta hospitals could be full by the end of May, Premier Jason Kenney said Tuesday.
"It's a shame that it came to that," said Stoyko on Tuesday with a sigh. "It is what it is … it's just an added headache. But yeah. Everyone's safety comes first."
Indoor dining in restaurants and pubs must be suspended by Friday in accordance with the latest public health regulations. Takeaway and delivery are still permitted, and restaurants can accommodate people from the same household at tables on terraces.
Certain types of businesses – bars, restaurants, arts, recreation and fitness – bear the brunt of the "yo-yo effect" of public health restrictions that come and go, said Annie Dormuth, Alberta provincial director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses.
Few have normal sales or are fully staffed, and more than half of hotel businesses say they are now threatened with closing, Dormuth said.
On Tuesday, politicians gave no indication of how long the stricter measures will remain in place.
Kenney said some spread of COVID-19 has been linked to diners hopping tables in restaurants or traveling between bars. It's a comment that some owners found daunting.
In the absence of hard data on which attitudes are most prevalent, some small businesses will feel like scapegoats when COVID-19 cases start to rise, Dormuth said.
She called on the province to postpone the opening application date for the new Enhanced Covid-19 Business Benefit and lower the thresholds for the grant program to allow more small businesses to be eligible for aid.
Restaurants cannot be turned on like a light switch
In the Portuguese restaurant Sabor in downtown Edmonton, owner Christian Mena says he has come to terms with the new reality of his industry.
"The reality is we're going through this, the numbers are high and only getting higher. I think it's a responsible thing," said Mena, who also owns the city's four bodega restaurants.
SABOR Restaurant / BODEGA Tapas & Wine Bar Owners Chef Lino Oliveira and Christian Mena (Tweedy Studios)
The meals his restaurants prepare are not intended to be taken away, like a pizza or a hamburger. He says customers come for the experience. He believes takeaway sales could be just 10 percent of restaurant sales to dine-in customers.
Federal wage subsidies were especially important to helping businesses like his Wetter with the pandemic, but he fears that time for these programs will run out as the pandemic drags on.
"Independent restaurants are the heartbeat of the city, not a chain restaurant, so I think you are doing everything you can to keep these places going," he said.
Mena wonders if the people and businesses of Alberta would be better off if the province had put in a longer, stricter lockdown earlier than what he calls "half measures" to stop the spread.
His frustration is confirmed by Derek Moe, who owns the Maddhatters – Eat Local Lounge in Grande Prairie.
The board member of the Alberta Hospitality Association says companies "drown" when revenues dwindle, but fixed costs like rent, supplies and supplies pile up.
When Kenney appeared on Tuesday afternoon to reluctantly announce the return of some restrictions, some Moe employees were in tears, he said.
The hospitality industry is shedding talented, passionate people who cannot cope with job insecurity during the pandemic, he said. Retraining new workers every time restrictions are relaxed costs companies thousands of dollars per person, Moe said.
The cost of providing take-away meals has skyrocketed, he said. Demand has increased the price of single-use food containers, and delivery services have brought the price down. Patio dining on the prairies in spring comes with unpredictable weather at best, he said.
He feels that restaurants and bars in Alberta are no further away than they were on the first day of the pandemic – only now with enormous debt burdens. Rent and wage support programs need to continue in order for them to survive, he said. The province needs a better plan, he said.
"It's sad to say, but it's scary. We won't have restaurants. We won't have coffee shops. We won't have our favorite gym. We won't have much." Things here, "he said.
Kenney said an aid package will come to help companies weather this recent setback but did not reveal details on Tuesday.
A committee led by Health Secretary Tyler Shandro and populated with MLAs will also develop a plan for returning to normal as more Albertans get vaccinated, he said.