VANCOUVER -- It was something most of us took for granted: the simple pleasure of going to a restaurant and ordering a meal.

That is, until two months ago when the provincial hammer came down and all restaurants, bars and pubs were ordered to close because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact has been devastating, with some restaurants closing their doors permanently, and others staying afloat with takeout and delivery services, eager for the green light from the province to restart the industry’s bread and butter: in-person dining.

“It has been very painful over the last 10 weeks,” said Craig Blize, chief operating officer for Earls Restaurants, the popular Canadian-made chain with 66 locations across North America.

But the pain appears to be easing, as Phase 2 of the province’s re-opening strategy began Tuesday. Earls wasted no time opening its doors, prepared to welcome customers, and ready to implement the safety guidelines laid out by the province and WorkSafeBC.

“From two metre’s social distancing, 50 per cent capacity,” said Blize. “Our menus are only one-touch and then they’re recycled afterwards.”

Other measures the company has instituted include sanitizing surfaces and restrooms regularly, and requiring customers to use hand sanitizer before even entering the restaurant. All employees will wear masks, be health-checked before starting their shifts, and are required to physically distance from each other and guests — not an easy feat in an industry where close contact is the norm.

“The restaurant industry really needs to get to a hundred per cent capacity,” Blize said. “But we want to do that under the strictest guidelines to ensure the safety of all our customers and our employees.”

At the Earls Test Kitchen in downtown Vancouver on Tuesday afternoon just a handful of customers were generously spread out in the usually packed dining room.

“I don’t think it’s any different than going to a grocery store,” said Madison McDougall, who was seated in a spacious booth, her laptop open, just happy to be out of her home office. “As long as they’re adhering to the same guidelines I feel safe being a patron.”

Phase 3 of the reopening is expected some time within the next several months, depending on transmission rates. If they remain low restaurants, including Earls, may be allowed to open their doors even wider and be that much closer to a sustainable new normal.