Masks on, snacks off: a have a look at Ontario’s new venue concession ban

Jacob Tutt didn’t see it coming. Sure, he now expects restrictions such as capacity limits.

But Ontario’s new COVID-19 rule, banning food and drink in venues, means he must close the snack bar in his movie theater – a restriction that has never been seen before.

Tutt can still show films, but without pop, beer or popcorn. (He usually chooses all three).

“A lot of the business is just being cut off from us,” says Tutt, manager of Hamilton’s Playhouse Cinema.

Sales of concessions vary by the day, but Tutt said they can make up as much as 50 percent of daily sales.

The ban, which came into force on Sunday, applies to venues such as theaters, sporting events, concerts, casinos, bingo halls and horse racing tracks.

Lisa Blokland had already stopped buying concessions at the Ottawa Senators Games. She and her 13-year-old son – who has tickets to half of the games this hockey season – usually bought pop or pizza.

She said the concession lines in the arena have been huge since the start of the season so she doesn’t really mind the ban.

“If it means going to a game or not going to a game, I’d rather not be able to buy food and drink and go to the game live than not be able to go at all.”

Lisa Blokland and her son Russell have tickets to half of the Ottawa Senators’ games this season. She says the arena masking etiquette has slipped since the start of the season and hopes the concession ban means they can keep going to the games. (Submitted by Lisa Blokland)

The NHL suspended the season through Christmas due to the surge in COVID-19 cases affecting teams including the Senators.

Blokland, a teacher from Arnprior, Ont., Knows that food and drink make big money in venues. She is concerned about concession workers who may be laid off.

“It’s a really tough decision for everyone involved. It’s just really just a dirty situation.”

Keep masks on

The idea behind the ban is to ensure that the audience wears masks all the time at a venue and does not remove them for bites and sips.

“Then they don’t transmit the virus so easily,” says Angela Crawley, a scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. “Once the masks are removed, your risk increases.”

Ontario morning from CBC Radio4:10No popcorn in the cinema: In Ontario’s no-franchise license

Ontario put a new ban on food and drink at sports games, concerts and theaters to help curb the spread of COVID-19. Haydn Watters has more. 4:10

She says places like hockey arenas and movie theaters are “high risk” activities, so the ban makes sense to her.

“This is temporary. This is an emergency,” she said. “It’s inconvenient and a real shame for the company.”

Nevertheless, cinema manager Tutt sees a double standard.

“It’s a little confusing why … I can go to a 200-square-meter restaurant, but I can’t go to a 3,000-square-foot, 300-seat theater with a minimum capacity and have a snack.”

The snack bar at Hamilton’s Playhouse Cinema is fully set up for the holidays, but is not allowed to sell food or drinks under Ontario’s new COVID-19 restrictions to curb the spread of the Omicron variant. (Submitted by Jacob Tutt)

Tutt is trying to figure out what to do with his food and beverage inventory – “Popcorn doesn’t last forever” – and hopes this will be a short-term constraint.

“There’s not much we can do other than roll around with the restrictions and follow them and see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

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