VANCOUVER -- Restaurant diners can now enjoy their meals indoors again in B.C., officials announced Tuesday as part of the province's restart plan.

The change comes nearly two months after provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry banned indoor dining in restaurants in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“I got off the briefing and I lowered my head and I cried,” said Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the BC Restaurant and Food Services Assocation, “all these things were taking a toll and were becoming cumulative and today we’ve actually turned that corner.”

Safety protocols must remain in place and groups can't be larger than six people. As well, liquor service will stop at 10 p.m.

“We’ve got the ability now to put the future in our own hands and control it,” said Tostenson.

However, unlike previous restrictions for restaurants, health officials said the people dining together do not have to be from the same household.

Health officials explained that, with health-and-safety measures in place, restaurants can provide a safe space for people to gather in small groups.

"With safety protocols in mind, head back to your local business … have lunch with a few friends at your favourite restaurant," B.C.'s jobs minister, Ravi Kahlon, said Tuesday. "I know that's something I'm looking forward to doing."

As early as June 15, depending on daily case counts, liquor service will be extended to midnight. As early as July 1, there won't be a limit to the number of people British Columbians can dine out with.

“The biggest opportunity for us is to increase those hours on June 15 back to 12 o’clock so people can stay out on the patio longer,” said Tostenson, “it’s pretty exciting.”

However, health officials said restrictions will only continue to lift if case counts continue to go down and vaccination rates increase.

So Tostenson has a request form the industry, “get a vaccination. That’s the game changer here, and if we stall on that or we don’t get to the numbers then we’ll go backwards.”

"We know that people who work in the restaurant and food businesses have been able to be immunized so we have that extra layer of protection now with case rates coming down and with the safety plans in place," Dr. Bonnie Henry said when announcing the restart plan on Tuesday.

But Tostenson said it will still be many months before the industry bounces back fully.

“It’s going to take us probably 12 to 15 months to pull out of this from a financial point of view,” he explained.

And the pandemic has likely changed the way the industry will look moving forward.

“Do (customers) want crowded places? Or do they want some room? And I think they want some room,” said Tostenson.

Restaurants will also need to hire more staff to keep up with growing capacity.

“We lost people honestly because we weren’t dependable, we were closed, people needed to make money, the hours were cut,” said Tostenson, “but I think the industry now is, well I know it is, going to be stable.”

He also suggested that anyone looking for a job should consider the restaurant industry this summer.