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Banff restaurants gearing up for safe reopening

“We’ve been waiting to hear when the national park is opening and when the Town of Banff will be welcoming people back in. Unlike Canmore, Banff is a ghost town right now, so the demand for dining is not high.”
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The Grizzly House in Banff is a popular restaurant in the resort community. While some restaurants in Banff are currently closed as a result of the COVID-19 shutdown, some are preparing to reopen with a new set of public health guidelines in place to keep staff and customers safe. RMO FILE PHOTO

BANFF – Banff’s restaurants and bars are taking a cautious approach to reopening under the Alberta government’s plans to slowly relaunch the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many businesses are seeking guidance from Banff’s newly formed economic task force, which looks to guide businesses as the province moves to stage one of its relaunch strategy, which starts today, Thursday (May 14).

Kathy Johnson, owner of Coyotes Southwestern Grill on Caribou Street, said the plan is to reopen the restaurant for takeout and delivery on the Victoria Day long weekend May 16-18. 

“We haven’t done this yet, but feel it’s a good way to start firing up the ovens and experiment with a smaller menu,” she said, noting evolving circumstances means it’s still a bit of a wait-and-see scenario.

“We are cleaning extensively and getting the dining room geared up to be ready to open for dine-in as soon as the demand is there and we feel we’re set up to properly safeguard our staff and patrons.”

On Monday (May 11), the Alberta government announced creation of a new website, alberta.ca/bizconnect, with guidelines for those businesses allowed to open in stage one of the relaunch to ensure safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As early as May 14, cafés, restaurants, pubs and bars, including outdoor patios, could reopen for public seating at no more than 50 per cent capacity, among many other safety requirements.

However, the government emphasized there are many conditions that must be met before moving to stage one, such as wide use of masks in public places and robust contact tracing is occurring.

Johnson said she is ordering the appropriate supplies to meet the workplace guidelines set out by Alberta Health Services (AHS), decreasing the number of tables and physically distancing them by two metres, as well as adding proper signage and screening protocols.

“We’ve been waiting to hear when the national park is opening and when the Town of Banff will be welcoming people back in,” she said. “Unlike Canmore, Banff is a ghost town right now, so the demand for dining is not high.”

While the Alberta government included restaurants in phase one of the economic relaunch, Johnson said there are many factors at play related to reopening. 

“There is the expense of reopening to few customers, safety concerns for our staff, safety training for staff, the reality of half capacity seating, stringent cleaning and sanitizing practices etcetera,” she said.

“That being said, I’m hoping by the beginning of June we will be in full swing, with dine-in and patio seating and healthy visitors from around Alberta filling our seats.”

The Banff Rose and Crown has a tentative plan to open its rooftop patio on Friday (May 15).

“We definitely want to get the patio open, especially for the locals,” said Vern Iskauskas, one of the partners in the business.

“We are looking at phasing in to meet all sanitary requirements and procedures that we need to adhere to.”

Iskauskas said the Alberta government’s announcement for a staged reopening of the economy, including phase one as early as May 14, took many businesses by surprise.

“We didn’t get a head’s up, but definitely it’s good news because I think we are ready to move forward, but we need to do this right and effectively,” said Iskauskas. “It will be good to slowing start ratcheting up into a bit of normalcy again.”

From a staffing perspective, the Rose and Crown isn’t too worried at this stage.

“We’re lucky in that we have quite a few long-term staff that have been with us forever, and we’ve been in close contact with them,” said Iskauskas.

Fairmont’s Banff Springs Hotel and Chateau Lake Louise are shooting for a June 1 opening date to coincide with when it's believed Parks Canada will reopen the country's national parks to visitors.

David Roberts, regional vice-president of Fairmont’s western mountain region, said only some restaurants will open initially, such as the Vermillion Room and Waldhaus Pub and Patio at the Banff Springs Hotel.

“Obviously, we’re going to be guided by the health authority protocols and so we’re choosing our biggest restaurant and biggest patio to reopen, so we can have the best of social distancing,” said Roberts.

“The Vermillion Room has 200 seats in there, which gives us plenty of ability to distance everybody, and then we will open the Waldaus Pub because the patio gives us the ability to sit outside.”

The Rundle Bar is under renovation with plans for a large patio. It’s due to open July 1.

“That will be a wonderful place to enjoy the weather and sunshine where everybody can socially distance,” said Roberts.

The Grizzly House on the 200 block of Banff Avenue is taking cues from Banff’s newly-formed economic task force, created by Banff and Lake Louise Tourism (BLLT), Parks Canada, Town of Banff, and Banff and Lake Louise Hospitality Association, to deliver a phased plan to safely and effectively reopen the economy in Banff National Park.

“The general feeling from us at the Griz is, we’re going to ease into it,” said owner Francis Hopkins, noting the restaurant is unlikely to open until at least June 1.

“We’ve discussed maybe doing a soft opening on the patio maybe at some stage in the early days, which has limited seats, because we know people need their cheese fondue fix,” he added with a laugh.

The Grizzly House, in partnership with the Town of Banff, has been offering free delivery of meals to the most in need in the community during the pandemic, including seniors, since March 26.

“It’s been very successful. We’re close to 1,500 meals so far,” said Hopkins, adding the restaurant received a donation from the Bow Valley Food Alliance to help with food costs.

“We’re going to transition from that to opening, but were going to do it gently.”

Banff Town Manager Kelly Gibson, who sits on the economic task force, said he believes most restaurants in town won’t be opening on the May 14 phase one relaunch date.

“In talking with economic task force, the general feeling is there won’t be a lot of businesses that will be open to the public on that date,” said Gibson.

“We do anticipate some restaurants to maybe open for takeout and delivery, but physically opening up table service on that date, the indication last week – and that may have changed – is that the majority won’t open up necessarily on that day.”

The new alberta.ca/bizconnect webpage outlines all that is required of restaurants:

Dining areas

  • Restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars must operate at no more than 50 per cent seating capacity. Outdoor patio seating areas must also be at 50 per cent capacity or less.
  • Arrange tables and chairs so that a two-metre distance is maintained between each dining party.
  • Aisles should be wide enough to allow room for people to maintain physical distancing. Consider using one-way traffic flow help maintain distancing.
  • Physical barriers should be installed where tables cannot be adequately separated. For example, heighten barriers between adjoined booths.
  • Businesses should facilitate ways to prevent infection transmission, such as the use of dividers between booths or tables, setting limits on the number of patrons per table, based on size. A maximum number of patrons sitting together at larger tables should be six. 
  • Remove table condiments and other frequently touched items like salt and pepper shakers, ketchup, hot sauce).
  • Consider keeping music to a low volume to help customers avoid leaning in to hear each other.

Entry and waiting areas

  • Control access to the dining area, by asking guests to wait to be seated. 
  •  Ensure that customers have space to maintain physical distancing in waiting areas. • Encourage table reservations to prevent lineups. 
  • Where possible, ask guests to wait outside until their table is ready, and use technology to provide notice that a table is ready. 
  • Encourage guests to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer with at least 60 per cent alcohol content when entering and leaving.

Facility

  • To maintain awareness, post COVID-19 signage throughout the facility.
  • Washroom capacity must allow for distancing between guests. For example, consider closing alternate urinals. 
  • Thoroughly sanitize each table after customers leave.
  • Washroom sanitation and supervision should be enhanced.
  • Staff should perform hand hygiene frequently.

Service

  • All dining must be table service only.
  • Wait staff and servers who cannot be protected by two metres of distance or a physical barrier must wear a cloth or surgical mask.
  • Digital ordering devices, check presenters and other common touch areas must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected after use.
  • Where reusable menus are used, thoroughly clean and sanitize between clients. Paper menus must be discarded after use.
  • Use rolled silverware and do not preset tables. The person performing this task must follow hand hygiene practices.
  • There can be no buffet service or self-service. 
  • Guests dining inside the restaurant must order food and drinks from the table.
  • Continue to follow existing occupational health and safety (OHS) requirements.

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