Saanich foodies looking for dine-in options will soon be able to sit poolside at the Lakes Grillhouse ‘n Bar – located inside the Howard Johnson by Wyndham hotel on Elk Lake Drive.
Restaurants across the region are looking for innovative ways to create more outdoor space for guests as the province has limited capacity to 50 per cent until further notice to allow for social distancing. As a result, staff at the Lakes Grillhouse ‘n Bar transformed the hotel pool deck into a second outdoor patio.
Holly Langlais, general manager, explained that the deck hasn’t been licensed for food and liquor service in the past, but since the pool remains closed due to COVID-19 safety restrictions, management figured it was best to make the most of the space and open it up for restaurant use.
The pandemic “has forced everyone in the industry to think outside the box,” she said, adding that many creative solutions such as expanded take out options have been implemented and will likely be carried over to the post-pandemic phase.
The Lakes Grillhouse ‘n Bar, which reopened on May 19, applied for the expansion permit at the end of May and Langlais anticipates they’re “days away” from being given the green light on the pool deck patio.
On May 22, the province announced it would streamline the application process for restaurants looking to expand their patios but applicants also need a letter of support from their municipality, Langlais said.
She added that Saanich has been “so incredibly helpful” throughout the application process with municipal staff available to provide clear guidance and ensure the proposed plans aligned with provincial safety restrictions.
“We’re in this for the long haul,” said Mayor Fred Haynes. The plan is to “let restaurants make the most of summer” with expanded outdoor seating.
On May 27, Saanich sent a letter to the BC Liquor and Cannabis Regulation branch indicating the municipality’s interest in opting-in to the province’s expedited patio permitting process to support the “economic resilience” of local businesses, he said.
District staff have also been directed to look at how Saanich can make these expanded patios possible – as outlined in a report by Coun. Zac de Vries, Haynes said. This may include temporarily reducing parking space requirements or permitting tables on boulevards.
Once the Lakes Grillhouse ‘n Bar’s expansion permit is approved, the province will allow the new patio to be in use until Oct. 31 – however, Langlais expects the pool deck patio to be popular and said management hopes to make it permanent.
People like outdoor space in the summer – especially now as “that’s where they feel comfortable,” Langlais said.
She added that management has also been working with an engineer to assess the possibility of covering the pool entirely to create even more space for tables since the pool won’t reopen any time soon.
While the pandemic has been “tough on business,” Langlais said the “silver lining” has been that restaurants have the time to try new business models and collaborate with others in the industry and with the municipality to find solutions.