Restaurants in College Square Photo credit: Sevval Kokten

It’s been over a year since the pandemic started and restaurant workers at College Square are hopeful that soon they will be able to serve customers with fewer restrictions. When the city wasn’t on one of its many lockdowns and closures to non-essential businesses, restrictions and safety guidelines were still in place for restaurants, to limit the spread of COVID-19. As a result, many businesses struggled to make it through the year.

They also had to deal with a dramatic decline in student traffic. “We lost a lot of students since many of them are doing virtual learning and living far from the campus,” said Justin Webb, shift supervisor at Starbucks. “The main times we used to see them before the pandemic was between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. That four-hour window was when we used to get a lot of students, but now not so much.”

Chances R is one of the oldest restaurants in College Square. Its popularity helped the restaurant maintain its clientele, and be less affected by the pandemic than others in the area. “We have so many regulars here, they have been very supportive in take-outs,” said Jensen Ward, a server at Chances R.

Algonquin College graduate Harpreet Singh, supervisor at Osmow’s Modern Mediterranean Cuisine, said the restaurant is running more smoothly than expected. “The only struggle we are currently facing is the limitation of staff, as we could be packed up with orders in a certain time period,” Singh said. He pointed out that some people were cautious about leaving their homes to go to work during the pandemic, but thinks that will change over the summer. “I feel like people are less anxious and the virus won’t stop them from coming out.”

Restaurant workers continue to take their mandatory screening seriously. “We are screening and taking temperature checks each day before starting our shift,” said Ward. “We also sanitize often and when we had indoor dining, we used to get our customers’ contact information just in case we had to do contact tracing if we had any positive cases in our restaurant.”

Even though it has been a challenge for many restaurant employees, they are optimistic that business will improve now that more people are getting vaccinated and COVID-19 cases are decreasing each day. With the new provincial phase approaching at the end of June, College Square restaurant workers are confident that they will serve customers in- and outdoors just like they did pre-pandemic.