Montreal’s Eating Rooms Are Back, But Not Everyone Is Rushing to Reopen

A terrasse in Old Montreal | Kristi Blokhin/Shutterstock

Plenty of places are sticking to takeout for now

After three months of forced closure due to COVID-19, restaurants can now reopen their dining rooms in Montreal — but plenty of restaurants aren’t rushing to throw open their doors.

Monday, June 22, is the first day that restaurants in greater Montreal (including Laval and the South Shore) can seat customers since March; bars are also allowed to reopen under the same rules as restaurants, but only if they are serving food. Restaurants elsewhere in Quebec were allowed to open last week, due to lower numbers of coronavirus cases in the regions.

Restaurants are required to follow a host of rules that aim to prevent the novel coronavirus from spreading between customers. Among other rules, servers will have to wear face masks and other protective equipment, and restaurant staff will have to clean items like menus after each use.

While restaurants have not been given strict limits on their capacities, tables will need to be spaced out by at least two metres, and dining groups must consist of individuals from no more than three households.

Although the grand reopening was long-anticipated among some restaurant owners, not every dining room in town is throwing open its doors right away — many are taking at least a few extra days to put social distancing and hygiene measures in place. For example, Outremont Syrian resto Damas, or Bouillon Bilk in the Latin Quarter, both opening Thursday. Some are holding off until next month; destination restaurant Montréal Plaza, for instance, hasn’t announced a reopening date (but has online reservations available from July 9), and popular Rosemont brunch spot Régine is also reportedly staying closed until mid-July.

The challenges also vary from venue to venue — at Old Montreal café and co-working space Crew, general manager Amélie Morency says her team is taking extra precautions beyond the government recommendations, to allow for people to work in the space.

“The space is big and open so there’s already room between the desks — we have a new extension that’s almost ready and we’re going to use it as overflow…in the cafe we bought plexiglass for every table,” she said.

Crew will also have a host that will seat all customers (except those ordering takeout), and who will ask customers screening questions, including if they have travelled in the last two weeks, or have any flu-like symptoms.

It also seems that many restaurants will continuing to offer takeout and delivery menus even if their dining rooms are not open. It’s likely that even after more dining rooms return to business, restaurants will keep offering these, to counter reduced income caused by social distancing rules in dining rooms — for example, downtown restaurant Cadet will open Thursday but keep its takeout menu.

Just as plenty of restaurants aren’t rushing to reopen, some restaurant workers also say they’d feel uncomfortable returning to work. Hannah, a server in a popular restaurant near downtown Montreal who declined to share her last name and place of work to maintain anonymity, says that she’s “relieved” that her workplace hasn’t fixed a reopening date.

“I absolutely cannot imagine anywhere [at work] where you can be two metres away from other people,” she says. “The whole point of fine dining is an experience of comfort, of ease, where everything is taken care of for the customer. But that requires a lot of invisible groundwork that happens very close to people’s bodies so I don’t imagine that we’ll be able to do that until there is a more long term solution to COVID, perhaps in terms of a vaccine.”

Marilyne, a manager for a restaurant in the Sud-Ouest who also declined to share her last name and place of work to maintain anonymity, shares that hesitancy, saying that she’s worried about customers not observing the rules.

“I can’t control how people are going to act…I don’t know what people think of COVID, maybe there are conspiracy theorists out there who don’t believe in it, I don’t know if people take it seriously. I think it’s a good idea to not rush into it. Service is going to change for a long time — I think this is going to be for the long run.”

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