Despite Omicron-driven anxiety, Ottawa restaurants will ring out in 2021 with modest New Year’s dinners

Article content

At Ristorante Marzitelli on Elgin Street, anyone who shows up for New Year’s Eve on Friday night and holds it out until the end will indulge in a bit of makeup.

Advertising

Article content

Of course, no one can imagine the latest wave of the pandemic. But after their five-course meal and the entertainment of a band, Marzitelli’s party-goers will be able to say goodbye to 2021, an hour early, with the fanfare usually reserved for midnight.

“W I want to pretend, ”says owner Christopher Marzitelli. “At five to 11 we do a countdown, and that will be it.”

The gesture and other similar around the city will end an evening in the city reduced in size and length and filled with uncertainties. At least Ottawa’s second COVID-19 New Year’s Eve will allow its participants to enjoy a kind of low-key, double- or triple-vaccinated evening out if they wish, instead of enforcing shelter in place, as was done for a years ago.

Advertising

Article content

Still, the recent, sudden rise of the Omicron variant has shattered the prospects for restaurants and bars doing something like their usual New Year’s Eve before the lean months of January and February challenge them.

On December 19, by provincial order, these companies went from full capacity to half and were ordered to initiate last call at. 22.00 and closures at 23.00. Meanwhile, public concerns about Omicron’s extreme portability are causing cautious customers to stay home, leaving dining rooms far from even half full, restaurateurs say.

“People are not coming anyway. They just are not,” says Marzitelli, recalling that right after the province’s latest restrictions were announced, his restaurant business dropped from the usual 70 or 80 on a Friday night to 13.

Advertising

Article content

“We were crushed even before the restrictions went in,” Marzitelli says.

Due to Omicron-induced hardships, Oz Balpinar, owner of Oz Kafe in ByWard Market, discussed keeping his restaurant closed this week with its best brass, she says.

Oz Kafe closed last week after an employee tested positive for COVID-19 and lost revenue from a Christmas day where more than 50 seats had been reserved, Balpinar said. The restaurant reopened Wednesday after all staff had been tested and found healthy.

Similarly, Beckta is reopening Dining & Wine on Elgin Street on New Year’s Eve after taking a pandemic-related break of more than a week, says owner Stephen Beckta. A post on December 20 on the gourmet restaurant’s Instagram account said the closure was necessary because some restaurant staff were exposed to COVID-19 and were considered high risk.

Advertising

Article content

Balpinar says her team at Oz decided to go ahead and reopen because “our staff really wanted to get back to work,” especially with the possibility of additional Omicron-related restrictions in the wings.

Marzitelli, Balpinar and other restaurateurs say their New Year’s Eve reservation numbers have fluctuated continuously, with cancellations and additions coming and going.

Marzitelli says his seating at 7pm currently has around 50 reservations for tables of two and four, down from a maximum of 70 but up from a low of 30.

“We get reasons from ‘I have to isolate’ to ‘We do not feel comfortable’,” he says, explaining the cancellations.

While Oz Kafe may feed as many as 200 people over multiple seats during a pre-pandemic on New Year’s Eve, it will be fortunate to attract 75 customers Friday night, Balpinar says.

Advertising

Article content

Beckta says that his namesake, restaurant and other companies, Gezellig and Play, were previously sold out for New Year’s Eve, but cancellations have left some tables free at Gezellig and Play.

In Kanata North, veteran restaurateurs Megan Bray and Selo Kahriman hopes 25 customers will enjoy the three-course New Year’s Eve dinner at their month-old restaurant ViaMarzo Kitchen & Wine.

We opened, just as they allowed full capacity in restaurants, ”says Bray, who together with her husband Kahriman ran Cyranos Restaurant in Bells Corners for 20 years before selling it this summer. “We were excited that things would get better. Until the last announcement, people were doing pretty well.”

The latest situation is so serious that Marzitelli says “ a lockdown would make sense. ”

Advertising

Article content

“I would at least have help for the staff and for the rent,” Marzitelli says, referring to public support programs that would be available.

“They leave us in the wind,” Marzitelli says. “I think the government is saying, ‘Hey, you’re on your own.'”

Balpinar agrees.

I really feel like the government is dropping the companies, she says. “As soon as they say, ‘We have to shut you down,’ they have to pay you. It’s like a waiting game.”

Last week, the federal government expanded the eligibility for businesses that will be able to apply for local lockdown program support. Companies can now take advantage of federal wage and rent subsidies if they need to operate with capacity levels of 50 percent or less.

Also last week in response to the Omicron variant, the provincial government introduced the Ontario Business Costs Rebate Program, which offers restaurants, small retailers, gyms and other eligible businesses a 50 percent rebate on property taxes and energy costs below current capacity limits.

phum@postmedia.com

Advertising

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourages all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments can take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications – you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, which is an update to a comment thread you follow, or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on adjusting your email settings.

Leave a Comment