Toronto is looking to save downtown’s summer patio season.
Although indoor and outdoor dining remains prohibited in Toronto at the moment, the city unveiled its plan to jumpstart local bars and restaurants earlier this month.
CaféTO is a quick-start program in response to the COVID-19 pandemic aiming to help food and drink establishments keep their doors open.
The initiative helped more than 800 businesses during summer 2020 by expanding patios to sidewalks and curb lanes, accessing more space for physical distancing and allowing owners to build decks and platforms outside.
Downtown Thai restaurants PAI, Sabai Sabai, Kiin and Sukho Thai are owned by executive chefs Nuit Regular and Jeff Regular, who used the City’s program last summer.
While they said they planned to apply again this year, it’s been a steep hill to climb for their businesses.
“Right now, it’s not about making money, it’s just about getting to the other side,” her husband Jeff said.
The pandemic has changed the operating window for restaurants, replacing a steady stream of customers with takeout orders, spiking only at certain parts of the day.
“The demand and supply are not the same as before,” Nuit said .
The owners emphasized they are still all in, rejuvenating their staff who they consider family and maintaining a high level of quality.
“So, therefore, (for) many of our staff, we had to cut down their hours, so their jobs are still there … but our income has dropped,” Nuit said.
This year, the city says it will update CaféTO’s registration process, develop more comprehensive traffic management plans, support quicker CaféTO installations and increase accessibility.
CaféTO Guidelines, a rulebook established by the city, outlines the specific requirements for restaurants and bars.
The rulebook states a minimum pedestrian clearway of 2.1 metres is required at all times, that it is the responsibility of business owners to ensure compliance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) and follow particular fire safety considerations.
The city also said it is committed to ensuring more restaurants outside the downtown core are able to use its initiative for outdoor dining this summer.
However, the process of getting help from CaféTO is not a piece of cake. In order to apply, applicants are required to submit a certificate of insurance for comprehensive liability coverage of at least $1 million.
According to Nuit Regular, securing space in front of restaurants is also quite competitive. She said her diner Kiin on Adelaide Street, near Peter Street, was only able to have outdoor seating because it applied earlier than its neighbour, RaviSoups.
“RaviSoups wasn’t able to apply because it’s a first-come-first-served program,” Nuit said.
She said she likes CaféTO overall but didn’t want to sugar-coat its shortcomings. The executive chef believes the city could do more to help restaurants like RaviSoups, to find alternatives such as redistributing space in front of office buildings to allow for patios.
Her husband said he was thankful to the city and its intentions to help the restaurant community, but hopes for more support for new eateries which are just getting off the ground.
Despite the speedbumps with the program, Nuit and Jeff are optimistic about summer 2021 and encourage Torontonians to stay the course.
The first phase of registration for this year’s CaféTO is set to open on Feb. 26, with the intention of setting up installations in front of restaurants and bars by May.