How one Toronto restaurant group is preparing to reopen its locations

Jun 15 2020, 12:12 pm

Toronto restaurants have been advised by city officials to prepare for reopening, so that when given the go-ahead by the province, eateries are ready.

Over the last several weeks, the provincial and municipal governments have announced systems of support for restaurants, including the temporary expansion of patios and the launch of CafeTO, a program designed to help the industry restart.

But despite support from various levels of government, the onus to adapt, from the inside out, to the shifting landscape of restaurants and bars falls on the establishments themselves.

Stella Yu, director of marketing at Kinka Family, gave Daily Hive the run-down on how the brand’s restaurants — Kinton Ramen, Kinka Izakaya, Kintori Yakitori, JaBistro, and Neo Coffee Bar — will be moving forward.

“Our team has already implemented new protocols in preparations of the reopening. We call this our ‘Expect More Care’ strategy, which aims to bring confidence to our customers and ensure they know their safety is our highest priority,” Yu told Daily Hive.

Some of these changes include retrofitting plexiglass dividers between the restaurant kitchen and dining areas, and in communal spaces such as bars and tables, where appropriate. Yu said their teams are also assessing restaurant layouts overall, making adjustments to ensure there’s is a distance of at least two metres between groups.

Kinka Family

Physical distancing measures will be taken to staff members, as well. Yu said the restaurant group is looking at ways employees can distance themselves from one another on the dining room floor, and in the kitchen as well. New protocols are in the works, she said, and communication about changes remains top-of-mind.

“During this time, we’re also prioritizing education and want to ensure that we’re managing the expectations of our team members. As a way to ensure this, we’ve developed communication protocols that will be distributed, as well as [being] accessible to all of our internal team members in the restaurants’ common areas including break rooms and offices.”

Once reopening commences, pre-shift health screenings will be required of staff, as will the mandatory donning of personal protective equipment while in restaurants, and frequent hand-washing and sanitizing.

Yu said that as the group of eateries leans into new ways of operating, feedback from team members and customers alike is being taken into consideration.

“The pandemic has shifted the way that all restaurants operate. As a business, we have certainly had to pivot from dine-in service, but we were fortunate to already have the infrastructure in place to handle a delivery-focused system,” Yu said.

“[Our restaurants] were available through UberEats prior to the pandemic, and have since been expanded to take out and delivery through UberEats, DoorDash, and SkipTheDishes. In May, we also launched our own online ordering system for Kinton Ramen, which has helped us reduce fees to third-party vendors. Though we will still rely on the services, we are expanding the in-house ordering system to Kinka Izakaya and JaBistro later this month.”

In order to continue “Serving People Happiness” — an ongoing commitment of the restaurant family — prices adjustments (20% to 30% off orders, depending on the service) have been implemented since the pandemic hit in order to keep meals accessible.

Now, while the group’s various restaurants look towards reopening, there’s a recognition that many customers will need time to feel comfortable dining out again. To accommodate those people, takeout, curbside, and delivery offerings will continue during the first few months of resumed operations.

Kinka Family

For now, Toronto is still in the wings, waiting for its moment to be called upon for entering Stage 2 of reopening. When that time comes, Kinka will prioritize the reopening of the following locations, all of which have existing patios:

  • JaBistro, 222 Richmond Street West
  • Kinka Izakaya Original, 398 Church Street
  • Kinka Izakaya Harbourfront, 110 Harbour Street Unit 108A
  • Kinka Izakaya North York, 4775 Yonge Street
  • Kinton Ramen Original, 51 Baldwin Street
  • Kinton Ramen North York, 5165 Yonge Street
  • Kinton Ramen Church, 396 Church Street
  • Kinton Ramen Mississauga, 4026 Confederation Parkway, Mississauga
  • Kinton Ramen Harbourfront, 110 Harbour Street Unit 108B
  • Neo Bay x College, 770 Bay Street Unit 3

Yu noted that as planning for these reopenings has solidified, city-led initiatives including CafeTO — applications for which are now open — offered clarity on the expectations surrounding patios.

The city and provincial government alike have introduced new permissions for restaurants to expand their patio spaces, or quickly set them up if they haven’t already existed.

Meanwhile, in Quebec, all restaurants will be permitted to reopen starting June 22. The Kinka Izakaya and Kinton Ramen locations in Montreal are currently being prepared for reopening in alignment with provincial guidelines there.

“Coronavirus has forced the industry to pivot and reassess the way we’ve been operating and as a result, we’ve had to adapt and learn how to better service our customers from a distance,” Yu said.

“We are beginning to enter the next stage of this new normal and though we cannot fully predict how the industry will look a year from now, what we do know is that there will be limits on capacity for the foreseeable future, and we can expect that for the first while, service will only be conducted on patios, parking lots, curbside, and adjacent areas.”

While the physical aspects of restaurants will be, at least for a time, quite changed, Yu predicts the social aspects will be different too.

“In terms of the customer experience, it’s inevitable that we’ll see a change in employee and customer interactions. We expect that restaurants will focus more heavily on pre-booked reservations versus walk-in traffic to both control the capacity of the restaurant, as well as to ensure we are able to conduct contract tracing,” she said, noting that an increase in electronic tools can also be expected.

Electronic order screens will aid restaurants in providing a fast-casual dining experience, which will limit the need for table service and direct human interaction. Yu said they’re also expecting smaller groups of diners, as opposed to the large parties that would visit before the pandemic.

Kinka Family

“The restaurant and hospitality industry has been hit hard, so we’re very much looking forward to when we can resume operations in a way that is safe for our customers and team members. Like many, we understand that this is a marathon and not a spirit and that the transition back to personal and professional life before COVID-19 will be a gradual one,” Yu said.

“The safety of our team members and customers is our highest priority, so our team at Kinka Family is taking every day as an opportunity to educate ourselves about precautions and preventive measures that we need to be taking, and applying them to each and every restaurant that we operate. We’re also constantly looking at other restaurants who have successfully reopened around the globe and are using them as examples to inspire our guidelines to our own reopening.”

Kinka Family

Yu emphasized the gratitude the Kinka Family has for its customers, who she says have offered continued, ongoing support since the pandemic began.

“Sadly, we know that the industry as a whole will look very different from what it was at the beginning of this year. But we are grateful for the unique position that we are in and to be able continue to serve our communities.”