The first week of data on restaurant reservations since restrictions were eased in Alberta on Feb. 8 shows that while some Edmontonians were happy to return to eating out, the number of seated diners remains far below what it was at this time last year, before COVID-19 reached pandemic proportions in Canada.
Based on data from Open Table on the year-over-year difference in the number of seated diners among restaurants using its software, Edmonton restaurants saw about 17% fewer diners on Feb. 8 compared to the same Monday last year. That's the smallest year-over-year gap they've seen since it dipped below 16% on Oct. 29.
But Tuesday through Saturday remained 40% to 68% lower than the year before. Valentine's Day did close the gap a bit, with just a 19% difference in reservations compared to the same Sunday last year, but that Sunday wouldn't have had the romantic connotations of V-Day itself, so the number of seated diners may have been on the low side to begin with.
Even if every available table is booked, restaurants won't exceed pre-pandemic numbers under the current restrictions, as tables must be two metres apart and can't have more than six people from the same household.
Experts have questioned the wisdom of resuming indoor dining, noting that because diners are not wearing masks while eating, the risk of aerosol transmission of the virus is high, particularly if the new, more transmissible variants take hold. The Edmonton Independent Hospitality Community expressed its concerns as well, with some reopening reluctantly and others staying closed to in-person dining.