The Smitty's Family Restaurant owner is finding a unique way to offer a restaurant experience to people living in different households while maintaining 2 meters of distance. 

"We try to think outside the box. In this case, there were five different couples, so we needed five different tables that were six feet apart, that all wanted to watch a Jets game," says Valerie Funk, the owner of six Smitty's in the Winnipeg area with her husband, Brian. 

Most of the restaurants they own offer a private room or area back when big groups needed a place to gather and have a meal. Now they've placed tables two meters apart in the enclosure to give people an opportunity to socialize while following all the guidelines. At this point, the red level restrictions from the Province of Manitoba say you can only sit at a table with the same people in your household, inside a restaurant. 

As of March 13, Dr. Brent Roussin made the public health order change stating restaurant patios could have up to six people from different households at one table outside. 

"Grads are missing out so much this year with not being able to celebrate together," says Funk. "But if a family wants to take their grad out and celebrate, it's a great opportunity to celebrate with another family as long as the table is less than five people. We can have multiple tables of five people each in that room and they can feel like they have their own private party."

Funk says that the restaurant stresses the importance of safety for clients and staff. 

"So long as our guests are remaining at their tables and not intermingling between tables, the socializing can happen just at a distance."

The restaurant chain, similar to many other restaurants, has been hit hard during the pandemic, especially having to only offer delivery and takeout for four months straight. 

"We survived and there are many restaurants that haven't. We have a loyal following that we are thankful for. The hardest location hit was our Kenaston location because it was newly opened in August. Because we have multiple locations we were able to keep that location open at this time."

Funk has had more people calling and wanting to dine inside and outside on their patio since it opened again, regardless of the Manitoba spring weather which can be quite cold at times. 

"Our patios had people sitting out there all weekend and it was great to see people socializing and laughing with their friends and being able to enjoy each other's company, even though it was chilly."

In November, Smitty's had to lay serving staff off which meant recently they had to start the hiring process over. Some of the staff came back on since restrictions lifted, but not all. 

"We need each other. When we aren't allowed to see each other it's hard in so many ways. This is hopefully our turning point in Manitoba," says Funk.