Photo posted to Aria Banquet and Convention Centre’s Facebook page in April of this year. (Facebook.com)

Shut us down, banquet hall owners ask B.C. government

‘(We) end up being the bad guy for not allowing them to party how they want to’

** This story has been updated

Operators of banquet halls in B.C. want to be shut down by the provincial government during the pandemic, in order to relieve public pressure on them to break COVID-19 rules and also avoid hefty fines.

BC Banquet Hall Association members say they’re in a no-win situation.

Facilities are losing tens of thousands of dollars a week in revenue, according to a news release from the association.

Members are trying to follow provincial rules to keep the halls COVID-safe, the association says, but on the other hand, customers and families are pressuring them to bend these rules.

“In most cases these families have been having private events leading up to a wedding for several days,” Sukh Mann, president of the BC Banquet Hall Association, says in a news release. “When they come to our hall for a wedding reception, we are now asking them to sit separately and not go to the bar for a drink. They are arguing with us there and claiming they are all in the same social bubble. We have no way of knowing that and end up being the bad guy for not allowing them to party how they want to. In some cases this has led to clients not paying for the venue after the event.”

A media conference about the issues was planned at Surrey’s Aria Banquet and Convention Centre on Monday (Aug. 24).

Any banquet hall guilty of breaking B.C.’s COVID-19 rules are subject to fines of up to $25,000 and jail time of up to six months.

During her Monday media briefing, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the government has fielded calls from banquet hall operators to relax the provincial order of 50 people, maximum, at gatherings.

“We’ve had requests for reconsideration of the order around the number of people at events, from the banquet community, and we’ve responded to them,” Henry said. “The answer from my perspective, given that I’m the one who wrote the orders, is it’s like the events we have in every other situation. And right now, for consistency across the board, we are staying at 50, and that is for a variety of reasons. One, to ensure that physical distancing measures can be put in place with that number, and that we can follow up with people rapidly, with a small number, if there are a small number of people potentially exposed (to the coronavirus).”

Mann said mounting pressure from customers, and threats of fines and jail time from government, has led B.C. banquet hall owners to join their counterparts in Canada in asking government for a complete shutdown of such venues.

“We have repeatedly asked for help and guidance from the provincial health officer and governments to help us come up with a plan that pertains to banquet halls,” Mann said. “We have been given no guidelines on how to operate except to follow restaurant guidelines and in many ways that is been very challenging.”

According to the association, some larger venues have been accommodating more than one group at a time because they can be separated into sections with wall dividers or are able to portion out the seating, much like restaurants, and even provide separate bars and bathroom facilities. However, the cost difference of having a buffet as opposed to individual meals “is not sitting well with those looking to book a banquet hall and again, pressure to bend the rules has been on for most owners,” the association says.



tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

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