Coronavirus: Relaxed restaurant rules will allow some Okanagan eateries to expand capacity

Last week B.C. announced a more flexible policy for restaurants reopening to dine-in service during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Eateries had been capped at 50 per cent capacity, but the province dropped that rule as of June 11.

Now the number of patrons a restaurant can serve will depend in part on the size of their space.

Meaning Okanagan restaurants with more square footage will be better positioned to take advantage of the more flexible rules.

Eateries must make sure there is space for diners to sit two meters apart from patrons in other parties or have partitions in place to separate tables.

The change is good news for the owner of El Taquero on Ellis Street in Kelowna.

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The restaurant expects it will soon be able to increase its capacity back up to around 28 or 30 patrons while still keeping them physically distanced.

It’s a big increase from the 15 diners it had been limited to under the 50 per cent capacity rule.

“That makes a huge impact on our business,” said owner Marnie Burnett.

“It’s the best news we’ve had in months.”

However, for restaurants in smaller spaces, it will be harder to boost capacity.

“It doesn’t make a different to us because to seat people every two metres is already 50 per cent, or less than 50 per cent, capacity for us,” said Mary Shin, who owns Bamboo Chopsticks in downtown Kelowna.

The restaurant will reopen to dine-in service on Friday with eight tables.

It’s been operating as take-out only during the pandemic but Shin said it needs to reopen to dine-in to keep up with the competition.

However, Shin expects operating at the reduced capacity will be financially challenging.

While the province is relaxing the capacity rules, many municipalities have also taken steps to help restaurants battered by the pandemic.

Last month Kelowna city council approved a plan aimed at creating more outdoor patio, and retail space for restaurants and shops by closing parts of Bernard Avenue to traffic.

That street closure is expected to start June 29.

– with files from Simon Little

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