For those working in Quebec’s restaurant industry, the past few months have been a “yo-yo of closing, reopening, and layoffs,” said Vezina Martin, a spokesperson for the Quebec Restaurant Association.

Even before the pandemic, running a restaurant was hard work with the juggling of high costs and long hours while keeping people fed, but the lockdowns have been pushing workers and owners to the brink — both financially and mentally, said Martin.

While the regions around Montreal and Quebec City are still in the middle of a 28-day lockdown until October 28 (at least), restaurants in the red zone were limited to offering takeout, delivery and drive-thru.

In an open letter published Thursday, 40 members of the province’s restaurant industry asked Premier François Legault for guidelines on how, or when, to reopen indoor dining.

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Lockdown has taken an emotional toll on young restaurant workers

What is concerning, states the letter, is the emotional and financial toll the pandemic has had on hundreds of thousands of restaurant workers in Quebec, especially the young people.

“We need to talk about the mental health of our employees. They don’t know when they’ll be called back to work,” Martin told MTL Blog. “We may have lost our best workers because they’ll have gone elsewhere.”

“Closing the dining rooms has an immense impact on the mental health of managers and employees in the industry who are, in many cases, exhausted, anxious, practically destitute, have no resources and don't see the end of the tunnel since no date for the definitive reopening has been brought forward,” reads the letter.  

"This is why we are calling for a rapid re-evaluation of the current situation in the restaurant industry and allow the reopening of dining rooms throughout Quebec."

They say dining rooms should be allowed to reopen 

As the pandemic probably won’t be over for a while, the letter is calling on the government to allow restaurants to reopen their indoor dining rooms, even at reduced capacity.

“We are also beginning to notice the need for a more minimal social contact to preserve the mental health of the population. Our facilities provide a safe environment for both our employees and our customers,” it continues. 

"We, therefore, believe that we can offer this place to consumers who can meet both a basic need (food) and that of supervised social contact."

The government's plans aren't clear

As the cold weather approaches and the terrasses close, the restauranteurs are asking for more transparency from the government.

Martin said he doesn’t know if Montreal will be coming out of the red zone. He fears that Quebec’s coronavirus lockdown could remain in place for several more weeks, or months if there’s another peak of infections.

If the lockdown continues, he’d like the province to present the facts in a straightforward manner.

“We want a date,” he said. “We just want to know, if they plan to close us down for three months, say it now, don’t let restaurant owners and workers think each day that we will be reopening soon.”

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