How Montreal’s restaurant scene is reacting to Quebec’s mask lifting on April 15
A month after restaurants return to full capacity, mask mandates in indoor and outdoor restaurants and bars will be lifted on April 15.
Quebec’s acting director of public health, Dr. Luc Boileau, confirmed this at a press conference on March 23, saying the province will move forward with its scheduled date and not sooner, stating that masks would become a recommended measure and not mandatory.
After vaccine passports, masks have become the last possible measure to be removed. For Montreal restaurateurs, this is a largely welcome change and, in some cases, one that couldn’t come soon enough.
“Personally, I’m glad it’s no longer part of our professional life,” says Michael Tozzi, owner of restaurant Dandy in Old Montreal, who compares the size of his small staff to a kind of family bubble.
“I think people are ready to move on, until the next crisis anyway,” adds Tozzi. “I won’t name names, but I’ve been to two restaurants in the past two weeks where none of the staff wore a mask.”
For nightlife spots like Farsides and Bord’Elle a few minutes from Dandy, the wearing of the mask could even be lifted a little earlier. “Change is welcome. The downside is that they hang around for no reason, just to stress our system,” says John Gumbley, chairman of Jegantic, the hotel group that runs these two businesses.
“Right now, we still have to monitor customers in an unruly climate,” Gumbley said. “I’m glad it’s gone… Imagine having 500 people in your business and trying to constantly remind them to put their mask back on after having a drink.”
“Two more weeks won’t make a difference. It’s time, we want it,” says Ilene Polansky of seafood restaurant Maestro in the Plateau, noting that it’s been a burnout point for staff and management.
It’s a sentiment also shared by Michael Roman, CEO of Best Restaurant Group which runs restaurants in Montreal like H4C by Dany Bolduc and La Sobremesa in addition to restaurants in Toronto and Mont-Tremblant.
“This is great news,” says Roman, who points out that his company’s Toronto locations have already seen a financial recovery since the Ontario mandates were lifted in late February. “The return to normal was faster, and that was reflected in our sales. We’ve grown week by week since (terms have been dropped). »
“I think people are ready to leave that behind.”
While enforcing the mask rules has proven to be more than an inconvenience or impediment to potential profits, it has proven to be as much as a danger to other restaurateurs like Toby Lyle of the Burgundy Lion Group of Montreal.
“It was really difficult. It got aggressive, harder and harder to control that,” Lyle says. “There is a staff safety issue coming from customers, reaching a point where it is almost impossible to apply (masks) after 10 p.m. on a weekend evening.”
“We left that to the staff; (after April 15) it will be up to them if they want to wear one, and there will be no judgment either way,” Lyle told employees who choose to continue wearing masks.
The CNESST, Quebec’s provincial labor authority, notes that “distancing measures [physical distancing, physical barriers or a quality mask] are recommended practices” in mid-April.
While those restaurant owners and operators generally look forward to the removal of the mask mandate — if they don’t think it could be dropped as soon as tomorrow — the hospitality workers Eater spoke to weren’t as enthusiastic.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a waiter said he wasn’t concerned about the government’s decision, but he wasn’t thrilled either.
“I just had COVID-19 myself, got over it and am back to work in my restaurant,” they explained. “I’m not particularly happy or scared that the term will end. I don’t mind wearing masks too much. Overall, I think I’m just resigned and apathetic to whatever comes next.
Another employee who spoke on condition of anonymity, both a nursing student doing an internship in an intensive care unit and simultaneously working in a bar, believes the move is premature.
“I know a lot of nurses I work with don’t understand (this decision) and think it’s crazy. I disagree with the government on this, but I am not surprised. Their approach was either panicked or worried about the economy,” they said.
“On the other hand, as a waiter? As soon as the drinks start flowing, people don’t care (to wear masks). Overall, I’m not hooked on this, but I think it’s dumb; I try not to be too paranoid and keep a cool head. I don’t know if it will get worse or better, but I can definitely see another wave coming.