Manitoba restaurants are gearing up for what’s expected to be a busy Mother’s Day, following two difficult years marked by dining room closures and changing public health measures due to COVID-19.
Sunday will be the first Mother’s Day since the start of the pandemic without restrictions in place for the province’s restaurants.
“We’re pretty much ready to go,” said Ravi Dhaliwal, co-owner of Cora Breakfast and Lunch near Polo Park.
Mother’s Day is typically one of the busiest at the restaurant, he said.
But in 2020, in-person dining was limited to patios only on Mother’s Day. Last year, just before Mother’s Day, Manitoba restaurant owners found out they’d have to close for in-person dining, and could only open for takeout and delivery.
Dhaliwal said there are challenges to switching to takeout and delivery for businesses that weren’t designed with that model. Having the dining room open to full capacity this year is a relief, he said.
“I think it’s going to be pretty, pretty busy,” he said.
His restaurant is slowly getting back to where it was pre-pandemic, Dhaliwal said — but it will take time.
“I still believe it’s still going to take, like, probably over a year to get back to kind of a normalcy,” he said, pointing to challenges in addition to COVID-19, including supply chain demands and rising costs.
‘Everyone wants to get out and celebrate’
Like Dhaliwal, Promenade and Wine owner Shawn Brandson is expecting to see a full restaurant of customers this weekend.
Brandson said reservations for Mother’s Day have been booked up for two weeks, though they’re still taking walk-ins on their patio.
“Seems like everyone wants to get out and celebrate Mother’s Day in restaurants this year,” he said.
Brandson said his restaurant took a huge hit last year when the province put restrictions in place after he had spent thousands of dollars on food for the occasion, and on expanding his patio.
“Our customers really supported us, and we sold the food as to-go,” he said, but it was “one of the tipping points that could have put the business under.”
Brandson, who has owned restaurants for the last 18 years, said support from the federal government helped keep him in business throughout the pandemic, but those supports have now ended.
At this point, he thinks it will still take a while for things in the restaurant industry to return to normal, but he’s feeling optimistic heading into Sunday.
He’s also seen a boost in business on other recent weekends.
“Numbers are picking up.… Probably the last two weeks people are starting to come out in full force again,” said Brandson.
“We’re just learning to live with the pandemic and all our staff are wearing masks, still doing heavy sanitization and doing everything we can to keep our customers and staff safe as much as possible.”
Shaun Jeffrey, executive director and CEO of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association, said the pandemic has made it difficult for restaurants to retain staff and plan ahead.
“It’s just monumental when you have no roadmap on what your future looks like,” said Jeffrey. “Even to this day, even though we’ve been open for a couple months now, there’s still that uncertainty that something could happen in the future.”
Jeffrey said according to a survey the association conducted last October, the average restaurant had incurred roughly $118,000 in pandemic debt.
“When you compare that to the low profit margins, those razor-thin margins that restaurants already have, it weighs very heavily,” he said.
He estimates the industry is doing about 70 per cent of the business it did before the pandemic.
The association is trying to help get Manitobans back into restaurants and work with industry and elected leaders to ease some burdens restaurant owners are dealing with, he said.