Southern comfort comes in the form of Bookers BBQ for those living downtown Calgary. From smoked briskets to jambalaya, Bookers has all the grill offerings one could ever dream of. With a restaurant that typically seats 165 guests, Assistant General Manager John Carag had to think fast when dine-in operations were no longer feasible and takeout/delivery was the only way to operate.
Bookers BBQ operates under a company called Vintage Group, alongside seven other restaurants in Calgary. This put them in an interesting position when the pandemic first began and allowed a few restaurant group members to band together and operate a “ghost kitchen” at Waalflower, one of the Vintage Group restaurants. Bookers leaned out their menu and collaborated with their fellow restaurants, cutting costs significantly.
The official reopening of Bookers took place on June 3rd, but not without substantial changes to their usual operation. They had always offered both lunch and dinner, adding spice to the lunch breaks of office workers in downtown Calgary and flavour to their dinner plans. The transition to remote work has seen a significant reduction in the number of people downtown during daytime hours, and so Bookers has shifted their days to begin at 4:00 PM. Their restaurant capacity dropped from 165 seats to 130 seats to ensure social distancing protocols were being followed.
“Overall I think the government did a good job creating the health and safety guidelines. It’s important to remember that this is their first time dealing with a pandemic too,” explains John. “In Calgary, there’s a city bylaw that everyone is required to wear a mask except for those with a medical exemption. Calgary business owners can’t force all customers to use masks, which is a tricky situation to navigate when trying to keep everyone safe.”
John’s mother has a rare form of asthma, which has added a new layer of difficulty to his role in the hospitality industry. The nature of his job is to interact with people every day, and so to mitigate this increased risk he wears a triple-layered face mask to work every day. He stresses that his situation is not isolated and that as people mingle about they need to be considerate of others, especially those with health concerns. For businesses that have COVID-19 outbreaks, the negative stigma around the impacted business remains long after the situation is resolved, even if the business was doing everything they could to follow guidelines.
Bookers BBQ, along with many local Calgary businesses, took a big hit without the revenue from the 2020 Calgary stampede. Stampede is a huge festival that takes place each summer that attracts tourists from all over the world and raises huge funds for the city and local restaurants alike. The restaurant has to hire extra help during this time to meet demand, pitching tents to serve 500 additional guests. Without stampede, Calgary businesses are now depending on their community to support them through this time.
“We’ve noticed that during the pandemic, some customers would come down and pick up their food instead of ordering online so they could check on us,” John describes. “Our community is looking out for us.”
For more information on Bookers BBQ or to order something fresh off the grill, please visit https://bookersbbq.com/.