But some question restrictions on eateries when other retailers remain open
Special to The Lake Report
For many restaurants and wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake, the province's plan to make expanded alcohol sales permanent offers a welcome glimmer of hope.
Adam Dodridge, a longtime bartender at Corks Wine Bar & Eatery in Old Town, said he thinks the changes are necessary, COVID-19 or not.
“I think the liquor laws in Ontario have been too uptight for so long and this is a necessary step regardless of the pandemic.”
Earlier this year, in the midst of the pandemic, the government temporarily permitted licensed restaurants and bars to sell alcohol as part of takeout or delivery orders. On Dec. 9, that became permanent.
Andrea Kaiser, director of marketing for Reif Estate Winery, said takeout alcohol will help restaurants be more prosperous during COVID-19.
“We’re thankful that the restaurants are able to pivot and find new ways with doing takeout and we know how important it is to modify your business model,” Kaiser said.
“We are faced with sort of the same thing at the wineries so we appreciate that they need to do the same.”
At Konzelmann Estate Winery, marketing director Andrew Niven also applauded the change.
“We're happy to see government making positive steps in supporting restaurants, a segment that has been hit hard throughout the last year,” said Niven.
“We hope that this is only the first of many steps in the continued support of the industry,” he said in an email.
Many consumers seem to be excited about the new changes, with 73 per cent of Ontarians in favour, according to a survey conducted for the Toronto Star.
However, some restaurant owners think the changes simply won’t make much of a difference – and aren’t enough.
Joe Marchese, owner of Twisted Vine restaurant in Virgil, said since March the restaurant business has certainly been affected by the pandemic but doesn’t see much changing with takeout alcohol.
“I think the government is focused on the wrong businesses. You can go into (department stores) and they can make a living, but you can’t go into businesses like mine who are following the rules, very sanitized. Why do people have a fear of going to a restaurant versus a (store)?” said Marchese.
“I just think people should support local restaurants that are really doing a good job.”
While he shares a similar sentiment, Chris Rigas, owner of The Old Firehall restaurant in St. Davids, noted allowing takeout alcohol is a positive move, but it has some drawbacks.
“I think it’ll be a net benefit over the long term,” but restaurants will have to “figure out Smart Serve” requirements for selling takeout alcohol and monitoring who is ordering the liquor.
“You don’t want to be delivering to a house full of kids. You have to be careful,” said Rigas.
“The only thing that I’m worried about is that the province toyed with the idea of allowing the LCBO and Brewers Retail to use third-party apps, like SkipTheDishes and Uber Eats, to deliver liquor and beer and wines,” said Rigas, “which will actually hurt restaurants rather than help them.”
When patios opened in the summer, Konzelmann's orders increased but “with new dining restrictions in place there has been a noticeable decrease in order volume,” Niven said.
November and December are typically strong months as restaurants host Christmas parties and group gatherings, he added.
“With that now gone, we're expecting to see the decrease in ordering continue,” he said.