Visiting small restaurants can make a big difference

Seven months have passed since the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic worldwide. With the re-opening of non-essential businesses in the province, many Manitobans have been leaving their quarantine bubble to experience the outside world.

This has brought a sharp rise in in-person restaurant business.

While visiting a restaurant pre-pandemic required very little planning, like impromptu visits to Earls for happy hour, restaurant visits during a pandemic must not be spur-of-the-moment decisions.

With COVID-19 adding financial hardship to an already competitive and difficult industry, we must make better consumer choices to help small restaurants.

While it may take more time to research which small restaurants are offering dine-in or takeout services, and we may not be as familiar with the menus, we are choosing to help a small business stay afloat when we choose to spend money at an independently-owned restaurant.

It’s no secret that the restaurant industry has suffered greatly during COVID-19. When the province announced that restaurants could open their patios in May, restaurants with no patios were out of luck. Even when in-person dining resumed on June 1, this excluded restaurants with small storefronts that do not allow for tables to be arranged six feet apart. As a result, these restaurants were forced to continue offering only takeout at a time when Manitobans were itching to sit down inside a restaurant.

With these restrictions, restaurants that do not offer delivery service suffer even more. When customers pay for convenience, they are hammering a nail in the coffin for small restaurants.

In visiting larger restaurants, many Manitobans may be paying for the overall dining experience — such as the luxury of drinking beers around a table of friends they haven’t seen in months — rather than the quality of the food. This is problematic because “paying for the experience” is exactly what we should not be doing during a pandemic.

Although it may cost more, we should be supporting small businesses and helping to ensure they can stay afloat. This means driving the extra few kilometres to pick up a meal from a family-owned business or spending a few extra dollars on a meal that can be made cheaper at a chain restaurant.

In taking these actions, we find ourselves in a win-win situation — by not adding another body to an already crowded area, we are helping small restaurants that may have been an afterthought and we get to potentially discover our new favourite restaurant.

Many have already noted that restaurant staff deserve more money during the pandemic and people have responded by tipping servers and waitstaff more.

Let’s not make their jobs harder with crowded and potentially hazardous behaviour.

Our servers are risking their lives to offer us a chance to visit at a restaurant, so they should be compensated more than usual and we should be active agents in helping raise their compensations and keeping them healthy.

This must be emphasized in reference to small businesses.

If we want to show restaurants our appreciation for risking their lives to make us a meal, we need to be willing to pay more upfront to help ensure the businesses survive.

And we shouldn’t be consistently flocking to happy hours or cheap wing nights for our dining experiences — we should pay more to have our meals cooked in small restaurants by members of our community.

If this argument is not compelling — say, to someone who may justify their reasoning by arguing they are supporting the economy even by visiting high-traffic restaurants — the risk of COVID-19 is naturally greater in popular or commercial restaurants. The more people in a general area, the higher the risk.

In fact, Manitoba has already seen a number of possible COVID-19 virus exposures at large restaurants. Choosing these restaurants due to convenience or lower prices compounds the problem.

Small restaurants where customers are in and out within a short time frame — as opposed to lingering for hours as they take advantage of cheap beers or appetizers — are surely the better option.

By visiting smaller restaurants, we can do our part to keep ourselves safe, keep our community safe and support a business that has no doubt struggled throughout the last few months.

With the city being placed in orange level, restaurants will again face increased challenges.

As we merge back into our pandemic routines, we need to be actively thinking about how our choices impact hospitality establishments. After all, ignoring our artisanal establishments could lead to many small restaurants closing their doors permanently.

Next time you’re craving pizza, consider picking up from Wall Street Slice instead of ordering delivery from Domino’s.

Next time you’re craving a burger and fries, consider ordering from A and V Drive-In instead of visiting Smitty’s or Earls.

Next time you’re craving tacos, consider visiting Sargent Taco Shop instead of Taco Bell.

In order to ensure these Winnipeg gems stay in business, we need to actively do our part and make visiting them a priority.