After a tough couple of years, Toronto’s restaurants are gearing up to get back on track. But the removal of Ontario’s mask mandate doesn’t mean that the looming risk of COVID-19 has disappeared.
With COVID-19 having a significant impact on the Canadian economy, restaurateurs have especially felt the effects of the pandemic. From the constant shifting from indoor dining to takeout-only service, to dining-room capacity limits, to staffing issues and mask mandates, their resiliency has been tested.
Weighing safety vs. business
At the start of the pandemic, restaurants and other indoor spaces were identified as COVID-19 transmission hotspots, since patrons cannot eat with a mask on.
Many restaurants were forced to close their doors to the city after being in service for years. Pillars of the community were shuttered in the pandemic. In 2020, Toronto lost nearly 100 restaurants, and dozens more closed in 2021.
Tomeica Murray, Manager at The Spot Jamaica, a small dine-in and takeout restaurant on Lawrence Avenue East in Scarborough shared her thoughts surrounding the mask mandate. “It’s mixed feelings,” Murray said. “I want to stop wearing the mask, my staff wants to stop wearing the mask but at the same time, we’re a bit scared though.”
According to the World Health Organization, disposable medical masks help the wearer from transmitting sicknesses whereas an N95 mask can help a wearer from getting sick. This means that even if restaurant workers continue to wear their masks, they will not be as protected as if their customers were wearing theirs too.
Not everyone shares this same apprehension, however. Dan Guiry at the Blackjack BBQ on Gerrard Street East in Toronto is more excited for restrictions to lift. Being both a server and a performer, Guiry has really put life on hold for the past two years.
“In the neighbourhood I think we’re all stoked,” Guiry said. “I can’t speak on behalf of the owners, but my opinion as a comedian and waiter is that I’m excited to get back to performing. It’s going to be nice for us to be able to get back to doing what we do.”
Toronto residents are also excited. Much more than just being able to dine in, the mask mandate means to many that Canadians are one step closer to being done and over with the restrictions.
Many other Torontonians are staying masked:
Vaccination rates have surpassed 80 per cent in Canada for those over the age of 12. According to Restaurants Canada, 2022 foodservice sales are projected to beat pre-pandemic numbers by at least 3.8 per cent.