On June 22, restaurants in Montreal were allowed to reopen their dining rooms. But with a requirement to enforce social distancing, Pizza Pinoli decided it would not resume dine-in service. With only a few tables, reopening would not be worth the risk, said server Sharif El Sayed.
"We're okay," he said. "We’re seeing how it translates out and we’re keeping as it is for now."
The family-run pizza shop in NDG will continue relying exclusively on takeout and delivery for now, said El Sayed.
Pinoli’s is not the only eatery taking a careful approach to opening up its dining room. While some are welcoming a limited number of guests, others are relying on deliveries but there could still be hard times ahead for Montreal’s beloved restaurants.
On Monday, the dining room at the venerable Snowdon Deli was open but dine-in business was down to about a quarter of what it would be on a typical Monday, said co-owner Sophy Agelopoulos.
"The tables so far aren’t very busy but it’s understandable because people are afraid and especially the older clientele is more afraid to dine out," said Agelopoulos.
But with Canada Day festivities just around the corner, Agelopoulos said a clearer picture of sales would emerge in the coming weeks.
During the three months of lockdown, the deli had enough pickup and delivery customers to pay the bills, she said, and now with reopening underway they’re slowly welcoming back servers and cooks, many of whom have been with the business for over 20 years.
She said they’ve worked hard to accommodate guests' safety concerns for the reopening. There is plexiglass between the tables, the place is cleaned regularly, and servers are wearing face masks and visors.
"I feel very safe about reopening," she said. "We’re taking all the precautions necessary."
Ryu Sushi was forced to shut down in mid-March but the much-loved restaurant has adapted to restrictions necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19.
It began offering delivery and takeout in April from both its Westmount and downtown locations.
On Tuesday they reopened their dining room for dinner at 50% capacity and will start lunch service at a later date, said manager Jorge Da Silva.
"I think the response will be good," he said. "People want to go out, they want to get back to normal."
Reopening dine-in service means Ryu will be able to hire back a number of staff, said Da Silva, "but that has been a bit difficult because some employees are on the "Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB)."
The federal program guarantees $500-a-week for people whose jobs or earnings have vanished because of the pandemic.
If they don’t earn $500 per week, servers and staff could end up losing money if their salary and tips don’t add up to that sum.
In that event, Ryu will make up the difference for its staff, said Da Silva.
"We’re willing to compensate them, we’re willing to match it," he said. "We told ourselves, 'they took the risk to come in' and at the end of the day, the staff being happy, that’s the key to our success."
Lovers of vegan sushi should be pleased to learn that Sushi Momo is reopening its dining room on June 23, as well.
Momo has taken a number of protective measures including supplying staff with full-face protection and a new disposable single-use menu, which will be printed on recycled paper, said the restaurant in a statement.
"We look forward to welcoming you back to Momo soon," it said.
Despite the slow reopening of the economy, the prognosis for the nation’s restaurants appears to be grim.
According to a new survey from Restaurants Canada, six out of 10 eateries across the country are losing money.
It’s been especially hard for independent operations, 22% of which said they were just breaking even.
For restaurants that have reopened their dining rooms, only 31% of independent operations and 43% of restaurants with multiple locations said doing so has improved business, though a number said it was still too soon to tell.