Coronavirus: Montreal restaurateurs urge premier to remove restaurants from essential services list

The co-owners of a Montreal restaurant are urging Quebec Premier François Legault to remove restaurants from the province’s list of essential services that will remain open as it grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Legault recently asked a majority of the province’s business owners to put their operations on pause for three weeks, with only essential services remaining open.

The move came one day after the provincial government’s decision to close shopping malls, dine-in restaurants, beauty salons and barbershops.

“We are asking all stores and businesses to close at the latest tomorrow (Tuesday) at midnight,” said Legault, calling his decision a difficult but necessary one to fight the spread of COVID-19. 

The businesses in question are expected to remain closed until April 13. Under the new regulations, the following are exempt and can remain open, as they are considered essential services:

  • Grocery stores and other food providers
  • Pharmacies
  • Depanneurs (corner stores)
  • Big-box stores not attached to shopping malls that offer grocery services, pharmacies or hardware supplies
  • Products for agriculture exploitation (mechanical, fertilizers, etc.)
  • Societe des alcools du Quebec (SAQ) and Societe quebecoise du cannabis (SQDC) locations
  • Funeral homes, crematoriums and cemeteries
  • Restaurants (takeout and delivery only)
  • Hotels
  • Dry cleaners and laundromats
  • Medical products and orthopedics stores
  • Pet food and product stores
  • Moving companies
  • Work equipment retailers (safety and protective gear)

“I can understand that for some businesses, it will be tough to do,” Legault said, adding that he hasn’t ruled out taking extra steps to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

But the move doesn’t go far enough, according to the owners of one restaurant in Montreal’s Mile-Ex neighbourhood, who made the decision more than one week ago to close up shop despite government guidelines allowing them to remain open. 

“I think everyone should shut down,” said Nicole Turcotte, owner of Dinette Triple Crown.

“One of our server’s brothers had cystic fibrosis, someone else has diabetes,” said Turcotte, who felt it was too much to ask her employees to stick around. She has laid off 18 workers, who are currently self-isolating after serving large groups of tourists before the restaurant closed on March 16.   

Turcotte’s business partner, chef Colin Perry, deplores what he calls mixed messaging from the government. On the one hand, he says, people are being asked to stay home, and on the other, restaurants are being encouraged to adopt a new model to avoid bankruptcy.

“We are being actively encouraged to transition to a takeout and delivery model,” Perry said.

Perry and Turcotte estimate delivery and takeout will only amount to about 25 per cent of their revenues while increasing anxiety around the transmission of the virus.  

“We’ve lost half of our savings from the last eight years in the last two weeks,” said Turcotte, who believes many restaurants are staying open due to a lack of financial relief from the government.

“It’s making people have to choose between making an income and doing the responsible thing,” said Turcotte. “The sooner we can get it (COVID-19) under control then maybe restaurants can start opening again.”

Turcotte and Perry’s hope is that delivery and takeout services will be removed from the provincial government’s list of essential services so that restaurant workers and owners will no longer be required to stay on the job and put their health on the line.

“Food is an essential service,” said Perry. “Having a prepared meal delivered to your home is an extravagance and an unessential luxury.”

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